Maria Yarjah, Sophie Stevens and Doireann May White in The Sweethearts

Review of The Sweethearts at the Finborough Theatre

Maria Yarjah, Sophie Stevens and Doireann May White in The Sweethearts
Maria Yarjah, Sophie Stevens and Doireann May White in The Sweethearts

Sarah Page’s second play, The Sweethearts, which reached the finals for the Leicester Curve playwriting competition, sees its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre. The intimate space provides the perfect (somewhat claustrophobic) setting for the world of our soldiers in Afghanistan, and in particular a tent that is to house a British girl band, The Sweethearts, slated to do a charity gig for the men. Hot, dusty and entirely without home comforts (except for the meticulously-placed flowers from the handpicked protection team), much of the humour in the first half of the play stems from the fact that these are women entirely at odds with their surroundings.

The Sweethearts Cast Jack Derges and Jack Bannon in The Sweethearts
Jack Derges and Jack Bannon in The Sweethearts

The Sweethearts, and their own subsequent trials and dilemmas within and outside of the band, are about to step onto the stage when crash, bang! The Taliban strikes, and their performance is postponed. The ‘protection team’ are kicked into action, keeping the girls company (the men mainly attempting to seduce them), and bickering amongst themselves. The final 20 minutes involves the Captain returning with the good news that the insurgents have been fought off, and whilst this news is met with relief, the subsequent conversation quickly spirals towards a chaotic, messy ending.

The Captain, perhaps suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, lashes out, and the other soldiers follow suit. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but mainly because it is not entirely believable, nor purposeful. The dots are not joined, the symbolism surrounding ‘the monument’ of Coco, the lead singer, skirted over, and the randomness of events at the end are simply baffling. This is a real shame, in fact; the themes of forgotten soldiers, following the rules, the idols one creates and the reality lurking underneath – these themes are present, and important, yet frustratingly undeveloped. The dialogue is sharp, funny – moments of stillness (such as Corporal Rachel Taylor’s retelling of the Captain’s latest heroic event) are beautifully poignant, and the performances are, in the main, natural, understated and perfectly pitched. Thus, it is the story arc of the play that seems to fall short.

Having said that, this is a play crammed full of ideas, and immensely enjoyable in the lighter moments, of which there are plenty; Laura Hanna’s Corporal Rachel was entirely convincing in her assuredness, Private Robins’ (Joe Clafin) unease with himself as both soldier and poet (and previous lover of Coco) perfectly contrasted with Corporal Savy’s (Jack Derges) swagger, and Doireann May White is a delight as Welsh band member Mari, her naivety (and accent) generating much laughter. With direction by Daniel Burgess, The Sweethearts is an enjoyable production that, with a little tweaking, could be something truly special.

3 stars

Review by Amy Stow

The Sweethearts by Sarah Page
22nd September to 17th October 2015

The World Premiere
“These charity gigs are always in bloody awful countries. I wish someone would fight a war in Marbella. I wish there were starving people in bloody Hawaii.”

A world premiere, originally seen as a staged reading as part of Vibrant 2014 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights.

Coco, Mari and Helena are The Sweethearts, a manufactured girl band who are rarely off the front page of the tabloids. In need of some positive publicity, they travel to Afghanistan to do a special gig for the troops at Camp Bastion before the base is handed over to Afghan officials. A group of battle weary soldiers, chosen to protect these three beautiful celebrities, eagerly await their arrival. But when there’s an attack on the base, The Sweethearts and the soldiers are thrown together and forced to wait it out in very close quarters…

Marking the first anniversary of the departure of British Troops from Afghanistan after a thirteen year campaign and the deaths of 453 British service personnel, The Sweethearts is a new play about the people we choose to make into our heroes and how we tear them back down…
Suitable for ages 15+

Production Team
Directed by Daniel Burgess
Designed by Alex Marker
Lighting by Paul Comerford
Sounds by Edward Lewis
Presented by Announcement Productions and Raise Dark Theatre company in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.

Cast: Jack Bannon, Joe Claflin, Jack Derges, Laura Hanna, Stevie Raine, Sophie Stevens, Doireann May White and Maria Yarjah

Friday 25th September 2015

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