Review - Soldier On (The Other Palace)

Inspired by the real life stories of service men and women, Soldier On is a brutally honest look at the effect a life in the military has on a person, their friends, and their family.

The cast of Soldier On
Photo credit - Tom Grace
Soldier On takes the form of a play within a play, which sees a variety of members of the military community coming together to share their stories. Coaxed on by passionate director Harry, they share the ups and downs of their relationship with the military, and chip away at each other's stories in order to reveal the unspoken truths at the heart of each tale.

It feels right that such an intimate story, which carries a remarkable resonance and truth, is performed by a cast is made up of ex-service personnel alongside professional actors from the Soldiers' Arts Academy. The characters, a rather ragtag mix, feel extremely real and lived-in, and bolster the play's starkness excellently.

With such a large ensemble, each with their own very different history to tell, and their own problems to face, the story becomes a little formulaic at times. At the beginning of the acting company's first rehearsal they sit in a circle and each person takes it in turns to recount why they wanted to be a part of the play in the first place. The stories are all touching and knowing that they are based on real testimonial makes them really quite interesting, but as the rest of Soldier On focuses on the translation of their stories from real life to the stage, at times the plot feels a little repetitive and formulaic.

The cast are uniformly excellent, with particularly devastating performances from Ellie Nunn as Sophie, the wife of a soldier with PTSD, who is struggling to keep her family together. Her bubbly, overly smiley exterior, showcased at the very beginning when she auditions to be a part of the play singing Taylor Swift's Shake It Off, is chipped at as she opens up to her fellow castmates, as the results are extremely cutting. Nicholas Clarke is equally impressive in the dual roles of Jacko, a fellow cast mate and ex serviceman, who takes on the role of Sophie's husband Donny throughout the piece too.

Writer and director Jonathan Lewis has tapped a story which is as hopeful as it is harrowing. There's certainly no sugarcoating, but the play is full of humour and light, and whilst it tells some frankly unbelievably distressing stories, it's an ultimately very uplifting piece.