Giving veterans a voice through theatre

Since 2011, the Legion has been running Bravo 22 – a recovery-through-the-arts programme for the Armed Forces community. We caught up with the latest project's director at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle.

For the past few months, a group of wounded, injured and sick Service and ex-Service personnel have been gearing up for the experience of a lifetime. In December, men and women from the North East’s Armed Forces community will take to the stage at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal in a play based on their real-life experiences.

“The arts expand people’s horizons, helping them to look out from within themselves.” Chris Connel, Bravo 22 Director

They’ll be taking part in The Royal British Legion’s recovery-through-the-arts programme, Bravo 22, which launched in 2011 with the aim of supporting rehabilitation through the learning of new skills – and the rebuilding of confidence that brings.

“I’m a big believer that the arts are important in any walk of life,” explains the show’s director, Chris Connel. “They expand people’s horizons, helping them to look out from within themselves – because when people are isolated, they tend to look inwards.”

Bravo 22 Director, Chris Connel

The show’s director, Chris Connel.

Chris, who is an actor by trade and has starred in the TV shows Emmerdale and Heartbeat, adds that he was very keen to get on board with the project.

“It really makes it worthwhile coming in to work. We listened to Phil in the auditions: he was homeless only a few months ago, now he’s in a play at the Theatre Royal – and he says that his life is better than it ever was in the 1970s. That’s just a humbling experience.

“One of the real bonuses for me is to see the transformation of people from when they arrive on day one. It’s not about putting on the world’s best play. It’s about the process and everybody getting involved and taking away from it what they want to take away from it.”

Phil Web during Bravo 22 rehearsals.

Phil Web, one of the veterans taking part in Bravo 22.

The new play, Wor Stories, follows Bravo 22’s hugely successful theatre and art projects that have run over the past five years. Its debut, The Two Worlds of Charlie F, received standing ovations throughout its West End run in 2012 and went on to tour the UK and North America.

The first production was followed by regional theatre projects in Buckinghamshire and Plymouth, with the company also running its debut art programme in Brighton earlier this year.

“Back in 2011, the producer Alice Driver approached the Legion about utilising theatre as a recovery tool,” says Paul Flood, the Legion’s Head of Outsourcing Services. “Off the back of the first production’s success, we decided to create a legacy – so that now there’s a body of more than 200 Bravo 22 alumni from the Armed Forces community, with more projects planned for next year.”

The Royal British Legion’s Bravo 22 Company Newcastle is delivered in partnership with The Drive Project and Theatre Royal, Newcastle.