UNLESS you’ve been on a tour of Iraq or Afghanistan as a soldier I would guess it’s almost impossible to imagine what it must be really like to be there and part of military action. The noise, the smells, the injuries and in the worst case, threat of death are ever present.
And what must it be like to come home, perhaps horribly injured and to a life that is not the same as it was before?
A new play by American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino, and now on at the National Theatre, aims to shed light on this and explore a virtual reality therapy which, according to the programme notes, has been successfully used to reduce pain levels in patients who have suffered serious injuries such as burns.
Ugly Lies The Bone tells the story of Jess, a woman who has come home to her Florida town of Titusville in the heart of Nasa country, after three tours of Afghanistan. Horribly disfigured thanks to an IED, needing the help of a zimmer frame to move about and in constant pain she finds life is not as she remembers it.
Her sister Kacie and Kacie’s doting boyfriend Kelvin have thrown a homecoming party but the one person Jess wanted there, her ex boyfriend Stevie, didn’t show up so she goes to find him. It turns out he’s been fired from his job at Nasa and is now working in a petrol station.
As she tries to reconnect with her old life and in a bid to help her recovery she takes part in a virtual reality therapy programme which aims to help reduce her pain levels. She and the audience are taken into a world of snow capped mountains in the Rockies, where it snows feathers and Jess has to climb and move her body in a way she has hitherto felt unable to because it’s so painful.
And so begins her journey of recovery both mentally and physically.
It is a short 90 minute piece played out on the expanse of the Lyttelton stage by a strong cast led by an unrecognisable Kate Fleetwood as Jess. It is a physically demanding role not least as she’s on stage almost the entire time. Covered in prosthetics she conveys the awkwardness of her character’s movements as well as the dark humour and frustration she feels. It is a stunning performance. Ralf Little deserves praise as Stevie, bumbling, nervous and always saying the wrong thing.
However the play itself does not deliver fully - it’s rather flat in places and there is not enough character development although as a way to showcase what virtual reality therapy can do it does its job.
But it’s the set, particularly when Jess is in her virtual world that is the real winner here. Full of visually stunning graphics it is quite mesmerising.
Ugly Lies The Bone is on at the National Theatre until June 6. Tickets from £15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.