What I Just Shot by Helen Nelder

In The News, If It Bleeds, It Leads

Either that got your attention or you're rolling your eyes, waiting to be told something new. It's precisely that search for sensationalism among an increasingly desensitized press and audience that lies at the heart of writer-director Helen Nelder's latest play which is on at New Venture Theatre until 20th November [2004].

Set amid an unknown conflict in an unnamed country, the plot focuses on John (Jim Polkey-Calderwood), a war photographer suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder out for one last assignment, and his relationship with Beth (Red Gray), the director of a humanitarian aid camp.

Aid Camp - John & Beth

While love blossoms amid the cluster bombs, John is torn between the call of his job - as personified by fellow snapper and gung-ho war junkie AK - and his own shell-shocked inner demons.

An engaging mix of video footage, physical tableaux and realism, the play takes us from devastated village to press briefing to jaded TV viewer, and most points in between, and raises questions about what exactly it takes for an event to be newsworthy.

Victims are used to advance the careers of TV reporters; photojournalists behave like a marauding sexual army among the locals; John may keep his job by going to the front but he risks losing his mind - and his soul - in pursuit of a story. Meanwhile, government press officers make disingenuous claims about "acceptable" levels of casualties in front of snoring journalists.

Generally speaking, the old fourth estate gets a bit of a kicking. However, given the concern over "embedded" journalism in the recent Gulf War and the battle between Beeb and Labour over the reporting methods of Andrew Gilligan, there has probably never been a more appropriate moment to question the methods and motivations of journalists in times of conflict.

Developed in workshop by her highly talented cast, and then written by Nelder in three weeks, this is a raw, passionate piece of work saved by its sense of black humour from toppling into an abyss of over-sincerity.

As with all good fringe work, you'll be provoked, either mentally or emotionally. Or both. Whether you'll ever believe what you read or see again - well, that's another bleedin' matter.

Virtual Brighton Magazine


What I Just Shot

As TV viewers we are bombarded with images of war but rarely do we get to see the effect it has on those who are caught up in the conflict. Helen Nelder's play seeks to remedy that omission.

The action takes place in and around a humanitarian aid camp and tells the story of John, a war photographer suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and his relationship with Beth, the camp's director. It explores their emotions whilst depicting the horrific conditions that they work under and the effect war has on them, their colleagues and the local population. In addition it takes a hefty swipe at the cynicism of the media.

Battle Zone - ensemble

This remarkable play is a collaboration between author and cast. What has evolved through improvisation is a powerful and moving work that takes the audience into a cleverly created simulation of a war zone and at the end left the audience in a state of stunned silence.

As to the production itself due recognition must be given to the technical team for the large part they played in the play's success. The realistic sound effects of bombardments were truly chilling and clever use was made of a large screen that doubled as an information board for the audience and a TV screen on which live video images were shown of the journalists' reports and interviews.

The production contained some particularly inventive touches like the balletic, trance-like mimes that opened each act and the house created by the cast that is ritualistically destroyed, its occupants murdered and raped.

As ever the standard of acting from the entire cast was extremely high. The opening courtship exchanges between John & Beth were sensitively realised by Jim Polkey-Calderwood and Red Gray. They conveyed a tenderness that conveyed beautifully the shyness and embarrassment of an instant attraction. It was unfortunate that at times Red's sensitive portrayal was marred by a too soft and too naturalistic delivery when words were lost.

Jane Austin, as Amanda, the camp's doctor, gave a powerful and angry monologue that spat out statistics to slap down a glib remark from a journalist. A haunting image that still remains is the harrowing monologue by the frail Mary, a rape victim, who is shown photographs of murdered fellow villages by a ruthless reporter. It was delivered with an astonishing force by Jade Weighell.

The Argus (Brighton)


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