When you cross the threshold of Kate Wasserberg’s stage for Close Quarters at the Crucible Studio, the dirt crunches under your feet and you cross into a world that’s both far off and familiar; lived in and wild; home territory and no man’s land – where the landscapes of Scotland and Wales are as vivid as the forests where Russia meets Estonia.
A world premiere co-production between Sheffield Theatres and Out of Joint, Close Quarters is the story of the first generation of female soldiers to serve in the British infantry in close combat roles. An elite and disciplined unit, Cormack, Findlay and Davies are finally seeing action despite generations of discrimination and misogyny, and the extreme physical, psychological and emotional impact of this kind of warfare.
From the off it’s a brittle environment of overlapping identities and in-betweenness, rules and contradictions, fierce companionship and integrity, broken bits and gravel – where cracks in the ground give way to maps, friendships, enemy lines and far-off thoughts of home. And the parallel is drawn like the chart the sergeant unrolls on a niftily used folding table: close quarters as a physical combat tactic between military units but also in terms of location, proximity, roots and gender. This is a play that draws people growing up, living and working together and tells tales of the love and the friction involved in figuratively – and sometimes literally – living on top of each other.
This sense of physical confrontation and personal space is especially clear in the combat scenes, carefully choreographed into balletic battles of pirouettes and petrol cans with an intense physicality that’s at times childlike, precise, violent and strongly delicate.
Day-to-day practicalities mesh with humour and the politics of identity with a poetry of crude language in Kate Bowen’s text that, whilst remaining expansive and expressive, leaves crucial things achingly unsaid.
This is a play about soldiers and warfare where explosions of soul and conscience are as loud as artillery and gunfire. The cast are a close-knit ensemble who demonstrate strength, physical skill and discipline while treading carefully inside the notion of a well-oiled machine – carrying each other against adversity and leaving no person behind. This is especially true in the case of Adiza Shardow who stepped in a couple of days before to perform the lead role. She does this to great effect (her script in hand often camouflaged simply as tactical notes) whilst being strongly held by the other actors.
Brave, loud, muddled, muffled, intimate, hectic and sparse – Close Quarters is a fine fit for this season’s series of funny, bold, political plays at the Studio.
- Words by
- Laura Hegarty