It’s heart-wrenching to watch a 15-year-old die on stage from a fatal gun wound but after the play is over the boy will get up, it’s just an act. Other soldiers his age across the world may not be so fortunate. Calum Blackie perfectly captures this troubling message in Furnace for your Foe a piece he wrote himself and starred in alongside 14-year-old Syd Sutherland (who attends Chipping Campden School) at Playbox Theatre in Warwick last weekend.
The hour-long two-man drama, directed by Alfie Jones, combines elements of black comedy with the reality of war for young teenagers. The play focuses on two enemy soldiers in an unknown and hopeless war who try to find solace in each other despite never seeing each other’s faces or learning each other’s names. One of the key themes the play explores is trust and the bond that can build despite extreme improbability which Blackie and Sutherland deliver so believably, perhaps due to their real-life friendship. The teenagers appear to be the antithesis of each other: Blackie’s character having great inner turmoil which he suppresses whilst Sutherland’s character keeps his heart on his sleeve every action being bigger and angrier than the last.
Adding to the eeriness of this dystopian setting, props hang from strings across the small split stage including a child’s drawing of a family, Woody the woodpecker, and toy soldiers. But the centre piece so to speak is the headless mannequin on Sutherland’s half of the stage which is used to represent the soldier’s relationships with God. The figure is particularly haunting in Blackie’s hallucinogenic monologue before his death when he tells the audience about the shot that will kill him, in which the mannequin symbolises his assassin. This speech is so disturbingly delivered that it causes a young girl in the audience to cry, while others silently absorb the horror.
Though the play carries a great emotional weight there is also a lightness brought to it through Sutherland’s talent for comedy. Much to the audience’s delight he begs for some of Blackie’s biscuits to the tune of Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’ and makes snarky remarks about the other soldier’s organisation skills.
Tragically halfway through the performance the fire bell is triggered and the audience is shooed out of the performance. However it is a credit to the actors’ abilities that instead of being put off by this forced interval they use it to their advantage. The actors leave as much time as possible to restart the play, as the audience wait tension rises.
It’s easy to say that the play is incredible for such a young playwright however this would be patronising as the play would have the same value as if it was written by a 50-year-old. However what gives the play impact is the fact that the young actors are the same age as so many child soldiers caught up in wars across the world.
Blackie has produced a tragic, elegantly written story with real punch. Undoubtedly one to watch.