On the day the long-awaited Chilcot report was finally published, it felt somehow appropriate to head down after work to the So and So Arts Club to see Valiant, a show composed entirely from the voices of people affected by war. What makes Valiant unique, however, is that all these voices are female. Part of the Women and War festival, the show is based on verbatim interviews collected over many years by Sally Hayton-Keeva, and a cast of four recount real stories, that happened to real women, with genuine emotion and unflinching, brutal honesty. This is not an easy show to watch, and yet at the same time, it feels like something we all need to see.
There’s the young Hungarian girl thrown into Auschwitz; the two Northern Irish women – one Catholic, one Protestant – who both lost loved ones to mindless, sickening violence; the American air stewardess who accompanied troops to and from Vietnam; the Latvian soldier who went to war to avenge her parents; the young Japanese girl scarred for life in Hiroshima… It’s a seemingly endless catalogue of horrors, and as one story flows into another, it’s also a harsh reminder of just how many wars have taken place all over the world in the last century – and how many more are imminent unless we take action to prevent them.
And yet, as hard-hitting as it is, there’s something strangely uplifting about Valiant as well. Because despite all the violence, fear and tragedy they’ve suffered, these women survived to tell their story; all it took was someone like Sally Hayton-Keeva to seek them out and simply listen. Her voice is also present in the play, but only by way of a written introduction for the accounts that follow, typed on to a screen at the back of the stage.
Director Alexandra Renzetti keeps the staging simple, because in reality, nothing more is needed. The four performers – Lanna Joffrey, Diana Bermudez, Catherine Fowles and Gemma Clough – remain on stage throughout, listening and occasionally contributing to each others’ stories. Between them they bring to life 13 women from all over the world, and with each new persona it’s like watching a completely different actor – accent, body language and personality change beyond recognition each time. The four women make regular direct eye contact with audience members, and there’s very much a sense of collective responsibility; these are not just stories to hear and forget, but to be remembered and acted upon.
Lanna Joffrey discovered Sally Hayton-Keeva’s book when she was a teenager, and when she later approached the writer about adapting her work for the stage, she received full and immediate permission. Which is perhaps not as surprising as it sounds – these are, after all, stories that need to reach as many people as possible. And while most of the accounts have anger and sadness at their core, what really unites them all is the feeling of purpose – of speaking out so future generations can learn from the mistakes of the past, and try to ensure such horrors never happen again.
Valiant – So and So Arts Club
★★★★★”genuine emotion and unflinching, brutal honesty”
Guest Review by Liz Dyer