At Ease is a brand new play written by Rod Dungate. Based on true events, this touching story was brought to life in the quaint studio theatre at the Old Joint Stock. Presented by DD Arts, a theatre company established in 2015, an extremely talented cast of actors expertly depicted this poignant show.
Written in documentary style, the play tackles the extremities of the human condition and looks at the long road to equality. It is compelling, heart wrenching and hard-hitting.
The story itself is an extraordinary one. The audience are first introduced to Rod Dungate (played by Jack Richardson) and Michael Cashman (played by Denny Hodge) as they reminisce, suddenly stumbling upon a conversation about Alex Rees, a young man who was imprisoned for attempted murder of a homosexual. Rees had been sexually abused in the army, whilst Cashman was trying to end the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, leading to Rees’s deep-seated hatred of Cashman. The police discovered clippings about Cashman in Rees’s belongings and from then on Cashman was instructed to inform the police of his movements and any change of address.
However, what happened next could never have been expected. Cashman reveals to Dungate that he has received correspondence from Rees, from behind bars, painting a different image to the man that was initially thrown into prison. His story is a tragic one, experiencing abuse from a young age, to then eventually be abused at the hands of the military. He hit rock bottom. However, his own self-discovery through writing to Cashman is a remarkable thing to see unfold. As Rod continued to piece together the puzzle of Alex Rees’s troubled life, he didn’t just have letters, he managed to interview family members, namely Alex’s mother and sister.
Carl Thornley took on the role of Alex Rees, a challenging character to convey. Thornley brought out the humour of Rees and he not only depicted Alex’s volatile personality, but also his vulnerability. The performance he delivered was utterly captivating. Denny Hodge’s Cashman, much as Jack Richardson’s Rod Dungate, were eloquent performances. Richardson acted as narrator, leading the audience through each and every discovery, the missing links, you were there with Rod, experiencing his journey. The first half ends with a stirring monologue, expertly captured by Richardson.
Hodge’s performance was enthralling and did justice to the beautiful words that Cashman originally spoke. Alison Belbin and Shannon Anthony played Alex Rees’s mother and sister respectively, and their performances were not only convincing, they were heart-felt and moving.
Bearing in mind this is a verbatim piece; the words packed that extra punch. These were real people, with real stories. The dialogue was interspersed with news stories and as extracts from the press were read, it eerily echoed events that are only just surfacing now; celebrities embroiled in provocative activities, exploitation and cover-ups.
Every single performer made this story so incredibly engrossing, and I would urge you to go and see it. It is an essential watch for anyone and everyone. A story that must be seen, heard and appreciated.
Performances run at the Old Joint Stock Theatre Birmingham until 20 June. For ticket information visit http://www.oldjointstock.co.uk/whats-on or call the Old Joint Stock Box Office on 0121 200 0946.
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