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Fringe review: The harrowing Lonely Soldier Monologues, Cockpit Theatre

LSM 5, Pete le May
The Lonely Soldier Monologues, Cockpit Theatre

Imagine being sexually harassed on a daily basis. Imagine being threatened with the sack if you complain. Imagine not going to the toilet after dark for fear of being raped. Sounds like life in some sort of repressive, misogynistic regime doesn't it? This is, in fact, life in the US army for seven service women.

Helen Benedict's play, The Lonely Soldier Monologues, is adapted from her book which is a series of verbatim interviews with women who served in the US military on tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. There is much revealed in the play to get angry about. There is certainly plenty to be shocked by.

Actors tell the stories of the seven women using their own words, lifted from Benedict's interviews. Starting with why they signed up, to life away on tour and then what it was like when they returned. Most come from troubled, abusive or dysfunctional backgrounds and signing up is a chance of escape or at least to put their lives back on track.

What we learn initially is that recruitment promises were never quite what they seemed and once on tour things only get worse. By far in the minority - one is the only woman in a platoon of around 70 men - their treatment by their male colleagues and superiors is jaw-dropping in its sexism and abuse of power. This isn't playful banter you see commonly depicted in film and on TV.

And it isn't just verbal abuse; the woman are supposed to have a female 'buddy' so they can travel in pairs for their own protection.

Then there is life outside barracks. The women serve alongside the men on the frontline but through their stories they reveal a poorly prepared, poorly resourced and badly commanded army which leads them to question their role and the purpose of the US invasion. The horrors of war they experience feel almost like an aside.

The effects of their tours are long lasting as we learn when they finally return to civilian life.

Lonely Soldier Monologues is a harrowing couple of hours at the theatre. It is troubling and by the interval I wasn't sure which bit of the story was making me most angry and for that it is essential viewing.

You can catch it at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone until 31 May.