A surprising fact little trumpeted is that 2015 is the first year since the start of the First World War in which British troops are not engaged in warfare.
But what are the implications for the army’s 81,700 full-time service personnel, and what does it mean to be ‘at peace’ anyway? These are questions explored by Lines, a new play that has opened at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick.
The play focuses on four young recruits who join the army for different reasons. The audience witnesses the boys transform into soldiers, but in a time of peace these new warriors play out their days cleaning their guns and ironing, a situation that soon becomes combustible.
“There’s a line in the show that says peace is just a gap between wars, that peace is bullshit,” says the play’s director and Artistic Director of the Yard, Jay Miller.
“We rationally try to want peace and desire it, but blimey look at what happened in Ankara – at a peace rally. This show tries to explore that really human need to be violent, regardless of who we are, where we are or what we’re doing.”
Miller, along with the writer Pamela Carter and the creative team, visited barracks and spoke to soldiers whilst preparing the script. Some of the soldiers, Miller says, were deeply disillusioned and bored and have subsequently quit. Following these visits they felt confident enough to create characters that were true to real life.
“Sometimes we literally took lines, sometimes there was just a sense of someone,” Miller says. “What we did do explicitly is spend time researching the process the army takes young recruits through, what they do on day one, what they do on week one, week two, etc. And we’ve been very, very careful to mirror that process on stage. All of these things that you’ll see the soldiers do on our stage, they do in real life as well.”
But how to make a play about violence with it being violent itself? Miller assures that Lines is not the theatrical equivalent of an action movie –a Rambo Goes East, if you will.
“It’s about an everyday violence,” Miller says. “A lot of male relationships are formed on a bed of violence, because they take the mick out of each other, so violence is represented through those relationships that are formed on stage.
“We see the characters become very aggressive, and although there is physical violence it is used very sparingly. Then what we do is that we fire the audience’s imagination to make them imagine and feel what these boys do.”
Promising explosive techno and angelic choral singing, Lines is The Yard’s third in-house production, following The Mikvah Project in February and last year’s Beyond Caring, which was transferred to the National Theatre. How important is it for the Yard to be making its own work, I ask.
“It’s really important,” Miller replies. “It’s just as important to define contemporary theatre as to be responsive, and I really believe we’re defining what is contemporary in theatre today.
“We want to be pushing theatre in new directions and working to try to figure out what tomorrow might look like.”
Lines is at The Yard Theatre, Unit 2A Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, E9 5EN until 21 November. theyardtheatre.co.uk