WHAT’S THE STORY?

SHE was one of the many who marched against the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan so it seems surprising that award-winning playwright Lesley Wilson has created a play about a female soldier and is working in collaboration with the British Army.

Wired is the story of a young woman soldier’s journey through post-traumatic stress and will be produced as part of the first involvement of the British Army with Edinburgh Festival Fringe in association with Summerhall.

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A former social worker and counsellor, Lesley has a keen interest in mental health, particularly in relation to young people.

“Although things are changing, we are still not good as a society at supporting young people deal with emotionally difficult issues,” she says. “Without a degree of emotional insight, emotional intelligence or a language to say how and what they feel, many young people are ill-equipped to deal with what life throws at them. For many, putting on a brave face and getting on with it seems like the only option. But the figures relating to self-harm and suicide would suggest that this approach doesn’t always work.’’ WHY PICK THIS SUBJECT?

IF so many young people are suffering from mental health problems why choose to write about a soldier, especially when she is so anti-war?

“I started writing this play in 2009 when Britain and America were sending huge numbers of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq,” Lesley explains. “During that time I was out on the streets demonstrating against the wars because I was angry and upset about the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who were being killed and maimed and whose homes, towns and cities were being destroyed ‘in my name’.”

But as the wars rolled on and the bodies started to come home, Lesley began to notice the faces of the soldiers, and their families, and her thoughts turned to the individuals who wore the uniform and went to work every day not knowing if they or their friends would come home.

“What wasn’t shown in the media reports were the numbers of soldiers returning home wounded, both physically and emotionally,” she says. “Throughout history post-traumatic stress, in relation to war, has been called many things including shell shock and soldier’s heart. In military terms it is sometimes referred to as ‘a wound of the mind’ and thousands of people are affected by it, both soldiers and their families. As a wound, it is invisible.”

WERE THEY PREPARED FOR WAR?

AT the time she wrote the play, young people were being recruited, trained and sent to war quickly. They were prepared physically and intellectually for the job, but emotionally completely unprepared for what lay ahead, she believes. With a limited degree of emotional insight or preparation many struggled on, some left as soon as they possible could - a long four years.

For some the traumatic experience of war compounded earlier traumas in their lives: traumas from loss, abuse or violence that they had carried with them.

“In the midst of war there is no time or place for someone to break down and cry when they see their friends being blown to pieces — they can’t stop and say ‘I can’t do this, I’m stressed, I’m frightened, I want to go home,” Lesley points out.

She says there are systems in place to support soldiers to deal with traumatic incidents both at home and whilst on deployment, but the macho “man-up” attitude still prevails.

Humour plays a big part in coping, as does “pushing it down” until later, when there is time to deal with it.

“The trouble is, later is sometimes too late,” says Lesley.

WHY CHOOSE TO WRITE ABOUT A WOMAN?

AS a feminist, Lesley is interested in women’s stories. She watched the award-winning play Black Watch and has seen many dramas based on army life “but they were usually always about men”.

At the time of writing the play changes were taking place concerning the roles of women in the Army.

“There was a lot of talk about whether or not women should serve on the front line,” she says. “In wars like Afghanistan and Iraq there is no front line. Women are exposed to the same dangers as men, whether they are working in communications or logistics or in many of the unseen roles within a military base. “Wired is the story of a young woman soldier, but it also highlights the many diverse roles that women of all ages and ranks participate in. During my research I was keen to hear what it is like for women to work in an environment where they are often the only female soldier in a company of hundreds of men.”

WHY IS IT BEING STAGED NOW?

WHILE the play was shortlisted for awards as a written work, no one appeared willing to take it further and, discouraged, Lesley put it away in a drawer.

She then heard the Army were looking for new work to present at their first ever Fringe venue run in association with the radical arts centre Summerhall.

“I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right script. The Army was interested in the play because of the invisibility and the changing role of women in the military and because of the story about post-traumatic stress.”

Although she is working in collaboration with the Army in preparation for the Fringe, she has complete artistic autonomy.

A preview at Glasgow’s Tron was well received, with the cast of Jasmine Main, a previous nominee for a Bafta New Talent Award, Una McDade and Natalie Clark receiving plaudits for their portrayals. Wired is directed by Jordan Blackwood and produced by Lisa Nicoll, co-founders of Glasgow-based In Motion Theatre which is supporting Wired at the Fringe.

As one of six productions at Army @The Fringe, Lesley receives support for the venue, marketing, rehearsal space, costumes and props from the Army but is fund-raising to ensure the cast can rehearse properly without having to juggle multiple minimum wage jobs or be out of pocket from expenses.

For more information contact info@inmotiontc.co.uk Wired will be performed at Army @The Fringe in Association with Summerhall from August 23-26.