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Soldier On: new play about PTSD performed by veterans goes on tour

Art imitates life as new play performed by former soldiers looks at the impact of PTSD and the healing power of theatre

Soldier On playwright Jonathan Lewis knows all about the transition from soldier to actor. After being invalided out of the army, he turned to acting – even winning a coveted role in hit ITV series Soldier Soldier.

Now his new play, which looks at PTSD and the healing power of the arts, is embarking on a nationwide tour. Soldier On is performed by members of The Soldiers’ Arts Academy, adding an extra layer of art imitating life.

Bringing the play to The Soldiers’ Arts Academy was a natural choice. A company of ex-soldiers becoming a company of actors by rehearsing this uplifting, humorous play about a company of veterans and actors.

Now more than ever we need to support the thousands of people who’ve served and returned

According to The Soldiers’ Arts Academy, the veterans find something akin to the humour, conviviality and support network they once experienced as soldiers in the theatre troupe.

“Now more than ever we need to support the thousands of people who’ve served and returned,” says Lewis. “To validate and affirm them, in a world that seems to be turning upside down.

“We have more of an understanding of the existence of PTSD than we ever did. So how do we get better at moving beyond knowing and acknowledging to creating opportunities for veterans to process these complex emotions in a positive and life enhancing way?

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“I’ve written Soldier On for exactly this purpose. To create a piece of theatre that is both entertaining and cathartic for its actors and its audiences.”

Producer Amanda Faber adds: “This tour will raise awareness of the difficulties faced by around 66,000 veterans injured mentally and /or physically or those experiencing transitional difficulties.

“The tour will also show local communities that the arts can provide an alternative to sport as a recovery route.”

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During the tour, The Soldiers’ Arts Academy is launching a national initiative called Art Force. Theatres the play visits are encouraged to provide space to veterans groups, while ex-service people are invited to rehearsals and given the chance to meet the cast and share their experiences and talk about the arts.

The plan is to encourage veterans to build art hubs where they learn new skills, aiding  recovery and helping the transition back into the local community and into work. According to Faber, “One theatre has already talked to us about developing a play with them this year.”

The hope is that Art Force could do the same for the arts as The Invictus Games has done for sport.

SOLDIER ON is at Woodville Theatre, Gravesend (March 1); The Playground Theatre, London (13-31 March); York Theatre Royal Studio (4-7 April); The North Wall, Oxford (19-20 April)

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