In a world in which political turmoil is often blamed on young people’s apathy, it is gratifying to see Tron Young Company making shrewd commentary on forces beyond our control. Sheep is an intriguing title for a play about war. It conjures images of a mindless mass being shepherded into a trap in a field. It is easy, if you are anti-war, to also be anti-soldiers, but Sheep takes a more sympathetic approach. It looks at the motives for why people might sign up, most of them misguided responses to war-driven art and propaganda.
Martin O’Connor’s script skilfully draws parallels between the World Wars and modern warfare. References to Ibiza smack of the glamour that war generals promised recruits in the 1910s. Two women discussing camouflage fashion are pointedly placed next to a reading of Anthem for Doomed Youth. What seems like an odd pairing brings an interesting perspective on the way that art, even with best intentions, flattens the horror of combat by prettifying it. Sheep’s character’s repeatedly forget the worst of war until it creeps to their door and leaves them bereaved.
The cast does a terrific job of bringing O’Connor’s script to life. The characters are all incredibly well developed, with Miranda Langley especially standing out as a woman coming to terms with her own role in the war whilst struck by widowhood. Ben Ewing too skilfully draws out a complex character, his shyness and awkwardness defying the gung-ho attitude of his fellow soldiers. Playing a soldier who has grown up with the army, with an enhanced insight into its questionable recruitment tactics, Ewing brings comedy and cynicism to his role and slips from one to the other seamlessly.
There are times when the blocking could use some work – a waltz is partially obscured behind the table and chairs onstage – but for the most part it is impressively creative. The dance’s transition into a gun pose is especially effective, driving home the tragedy of soldiers with ordinary lives that are interrupted by conflict. Scene changes are accompanied by titles projected onto the stage, aligning Sheep with other anti-war pieces that have come before it – Oh! What A Lovely War comes to mind, or Brecht’s epic theatre. It is another brief nod to the past, unfortunately showing how little things have changed.
The Guardian has said of Chrysalis that we can “see how the future looks through their eyes”, that is the eyes of today’s youth. It is not an optimistic outlook. It is one of repeated history, another “war to end all wars”, more propaganda, and more apathy. As an exhibit of Scottish youth theatre though, the future is brighter. Scotland’s strong theatre tradition is assured in the hands of these talented performers.