Valiant, So & So Arts Club

“War has changed, but it’s effect on generations of women hasn’t,” writes Sarah Berger, founder and artistic director of So & So Arts Club. Military history is mostly dominated by men, but Sally Hayton-Keeva gives voice to disregarded but valid female experiences of conflict. Valiant Women in War and Exile is her collection of stories spanning the generations of global conflict from El Salvador to Germany to the Philippines. Adapted for the stage by Lanna Joffrey, Valiant interweaves verbatim monologues that director Alexandra Rensetti places on a bare stage with intermittent textual projections. It’s so simple, but fantastic performances by four multi-rolling actors and a script that’s equally riveting and horrifying serves to educate, advocate and protest. This production is a vital contribution to women’s history, giving voice to those ignored in favour of patriarchal experiences of human suffering in times of war.

Lanna Joffrey, Diana Bermudes, Catherine Fowles and Gemma Clough each play several characters, at least three or four each. As impressive as their work is, much credit is due to their accent coaches, Joy Lanceta and Nicola Redman. There were hardly any lapses in accent and the actors integrated them in their performance rather than be inhibited by them. 

All text is delivered to the audience in a first-person narrative. Sometimes this is a lengthy section by one person, other parts are fragmented and shared to emphasise shared experience. These women are wholly uncensored and overflowing with emotion, whether that is violence towards the Nazis by the youngest ever Russian sniper, passion from a radical Afghani teacher teaching her students revolutionary poetry, or the numb devastation of a Northern Irish wife who watched her husband and daughter die in a car bomb. There are so many more, each as powerful and moving as the next. The pain and torture these women have endured is incomprehensible to most people, as is their strength. The actors’ ability to evoke empathy through complete commitment to these women and their stories gives this production its power.

Renzetti’s direction is simple and uses large text blocks of projection to add visual variation, but the actors acknowledgement of it before speaking unnecessarily breaks character. Joffrey’s script is a relentless barrage, but It should be – it drives the message home again and again. These stories are not isolated across space and time, they are everywhere. The amount of women introduced in the short space of time reinforces that women and children are often neglected in the wake of stories of wartime male heroism and that history’s narrative must change.

There is little to fault in this production and its message is loud and clear. If only Valiant were required viewing for politicians the world over who grunt and preen in luxurious, remote palaces like overweight performing monkeys, perhaps they may learn that war has an unimaginable but very real impact on the 99 percent. Soldier casualties are clear, mostly male numbers thrown about in political rhetoric but the often unseen consequences on women and girls must be acknowledged.

 Valiant runs through 31 July.

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