Reviewed – 7th November 2017
“a thoroughly genuine and well-crafted piece”
I.E.D. gets it first full-length outing as part of Theatre N16’s ‘Aftershock’ festival; a month long event featuring plays exploring the aftermath of conflict. This original play, written by Martin McNamara, steps back to the recent past of 2008, as Captain Agnes Bennet (Safron Beck), Army Notification Officer, is tasked with informing the families of soldiers killed in combat of their loved one’s death. Accompanying her on this ‘knock’ is Private Iain Maginnis (Jordan Fyffe), a young man from the same platoon as the deceased. Bennet, a veteran of these calls, appears frustrated by Maginnis’ presence, a tactic the Major thinks will benefit the family, but Bennet thinks will only interfere with her carefully planned regime.
Safron Beck as Captain Agnes Bennet provides a level and nuanced performance, gaining the audience’s allegiance and empathy; a tough task for a character who rarely lets down their guard. Jordan Fyffe’s Maginnis is of stark contrast to Bennet, charismatic with a youthful naivety. Fyffe used the intimate setting of the N16 theatre to his advantage, directing speech at audience members as if they were people from his past. He maintains this intimacy with the audience right through to the final scenes of the piece, where the true nature of the relationship with his fallen comrade is revealed.
Through the perception of Bennet by the male characters, I.E.D. attempts to address the expectations of women with respect to men. We scoff when Major Lawless, played with humour by Matt Betts, suggests that during a ‘knock’ women provide the emotional support whilst men provide the stoicism, as we know that for Bennet and Maginnis the roles are reversed. However, when Maginnis later asserts Bennet is not enough of a woman for being too hardened to the grief, Bennet is debased. The motivations behind Bennet’s tough exterior and fixation with process could simply be read as a mechanism to cope with the trauma of warfare; however, I would have loved to see a more in depth challenge to the societal expectations of Bennet’s character, questioning the gendered roles society ascribes to women and men with regard to emotional labour. In fact, Bennet opens up and reveals more of herself in the final scenes, thus in some senses re-gaining a womanhood, which should always have been afforded to her.
I.E.D. attempts to show the hardening of spirits, caging of emotions and locking away of memories that are required to endure army service. However, despite the often solemn subject matter, the script was peppered with humour throughout. From the director Rebecca Lyons’ note in the programme, it is clear that the production was not without its difficulties, but it’s team accomplished a thoroughly genuine and well-crafted piece that wholly exceeded my expectations.
Reviewed by Amber Woodward
Photography by Kathy Trevelyan
is at Theatre N16 until 11th November
Theatre N16 is facing closure – please click here for further information and to see how you can help