Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Thurs 9 June


As it forms part of Sherman Cymru’s RAW programme for new writing, Foster Mark’s The Sanger itself may not come across as unprocessed. However, the opinions expressed in it certainly do. With bold references to sex toys, shameless discussions of bodily functions and questionable opinions of Islamic culture, this is a no-holds-barred discussion of the British presence in Afghanistan.

While some lines fall short of their potential impact, the real strength of the scriptwriting lies in the authenticity of the references which ultimately showcase the playwright’s status as veteran. As one of the soldiers scratches his crotch and another heads off for a ‘consolation dump’, there is casual vulgarity which means the servicemen are not presented with a distant gravitas, but with an understanding and respect that greatly enriches their plausibility.

So as the mood shifts from cultural intolerance to empathy, humour facilitates the ebb and flow of tone which masks the terrifying reality of the situation. ‘See what this does to a watermelon’ instructs one character, throwing a bullet to his colleague. Catching the bullet yet dodging the recognition of its destructive power, the colleague’s response is, ‘Do you reckon we’ll get ambushed by many watermelons?’ This is an avoidance here which comes across as deliberate, designed to artificially lighten the mood. At this point, emotional recognition may be hidden but the survival technique of denial is powerfully exposed.

Humorous and intense, with a nod towards darker themes, The Sanger is an authentic collage of life in combat. Concluding as Tom Cullen’s Laze spray-paints an ambiguous ‘WAAAA…’ on the wall of the abandoned sanger, the finish is as RAW as the programme’s title suggesting the simple expression of pain, anguish, masculine aggression or a baby’s cry. This is a primal, unpolished and unspoken acknowledgement of the real difficulty of understanding war that tells us more about the nature of conflict than our entire vocabulary ever could.

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