Army wives in the spotlight

Catherine Shipton in Soldiers' Wives.

Catherine Shipton in Soldiers' Wives.

First published in Entertainments by

THE lives of women waiting for their soldier husbands to come home, and dreading receiving the news that they won’t, are explored in a one-woman show coming to Salisbury Playhouse.

Catherine Shipton, best known to viewers through her role as Duffy in the BBC series Casualty, takes on all five characters in Soldiers’ Wives, which won rave reviews and saw her nominated for best solo performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year.

“They are a group of women that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to form a cohesive social group,” she explains.

“But humanity brings them together.”

The women are living in army accommodation in England while their husbands are serving in Afghanistan.

They are each very different characters with partners ranging from a commanding officer to a private in the ranks, but with the shared experience of the tension and heartache that comes from being separated from a loved one and worrying about the dangers they are facing while trying to keep their family going at home.

“It is a very human and very real story,” says Shipton. “You have the men on active service and the woman on an army base at home and it is as if they exist in their own bubbles.

“The women are a part of the local community, their children go to local schools, but their experiences of life are very different to those around them.”

Perhaps surprisingly, given the subject matter, Shipton says there is plenty of humour in the play.

“The subject is serious but, as in real life, the women can inject humour into a serious subject.

They all have their own little foibles and it is done in a conversational manner; they are talking to the audience as you would to a confidant, revealing something about themselves and about the others.”

The play was written by Sarah Daniels, who researched it by spending time on a base, speaking to and interacting with army spouses who were going through the experiences she wanted to portray on stage.

The result is a work that has resonated among those whose lives are affected by the issues it focuses on.

“We had people who came to see it at Edinburgh who were in the army,” says Shipton. “There was one man who served in the Falklands who sobbed all the way through.

“He said it made him think about what those who were left behind had gone through.

“People have said that it has lifted the lid on something they are coping with, and has given them a voice.

“Sarah has written with such humanity and I think that does have an impact on the audience.”

  • Soldiers’ Wives is at Salberg Studio, Salisbury Playhouse from February 26 to March 2.

There is a post-show discussion on February 28. Tickets: 01722 320333, salisburyplayhouse.com.

  • A companion piece, Soldier’s’ Song – a true account of a man on the frontline, written and performed by Ken Lukowiak, who served with 2 Para during the Falklands War – is at the Playhouse from February 21 to 23.

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