5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline

Tramway, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

five stars

OUR UNIT – four men, one woman in combat camouflage – begins where all squaddies do: with square bashing, their boots hitting the floor in tight, synchronous rhythms and their bodies striding out in matching, marching precision. We know, of course, that choreographer Rosie Kay’s five soldiers are dancers, but in-depth background researches have grounded her moves and their delivery in the physicality, camaraderie and mental challenges of army life. Never more so, perhaps, than when we see the unit off-duty and regimentation giving way to individuality.

The guys cut loose, lam into bouts of horse-play then get all burlesque-prancey to Katy Perry’s Firework – until they spot the real fire-cracker: Shelley Eva Haden, stripped to her underwear, in a cloud of talc. Kay doesn’t dodge the conflicting impulses here, as the men encounter the femininity within their fellow soldier. Raw longings surface – sexual for sure but, with tremendous insight, Kay delves deeper and reveals the men crave tenderness. As Haden is carried aloft by them, womankind is symbolically honoured – not only as a civvy-street goddess, but as a valued comrade.

If Kay is lifting the lid on barrack-room tensions and vulnerabilities, there’s a similar pursuit of underlying truths when battle exercises morph into front-line fighting. A parachute descent lulls us with its floaty-balletic grace, but this is a cunning counterpoint to an ending that means to harrow, and it does.

One of the five suffers what is often referred to as “life-changing injuries”. Everyone – Haden, Luke Bradshaw, Reece Causton and Duncan Anderson – has pulled us out of our comfort zone with their unstinting, visceral performances but Oliver Russell, determined to soldier on despite those radical injuries, wrenches at our hearts and thoughts.