AT the start of Soldiers’ Wives, commanding officer’s wife Lucy says she and her cohorts have to accept they are “married to someone whose job description includes being prepared to die”.
It may be a truism, but writer Sarah Daniels’ choice to state this stark fact at the very beginning of the play means that it is always there in the back of your mind, whatever drama unfolds and whatever words are spoken.
Catherine Shipton, best known to TV viewers as Duffy from Casualty, puts in a strong performance, taking on myriad roles in this one-woman show; from posh Lucy, who takes her role as leader of the wives as seriously as her husband takes his job in leading his soldiers into battle, to timid and illiterate cleaner Ruby, whose worries and feelings of inadequacy are assuaged only by waiting for her beloved Michael to call.
Shipton’s portrayal of a wide range of characters is done solely through changes in persona that could have been overworked, but hers is a performance that is subtle while nuanced enough to ensure the audience knows who is speaking at each point.
The characters talk to the audience as if to a friend, progressing through introductions and ‘getting to know you’ chitchat to heartfelt proclamations of despair made to a close confidant, with each woman offering a different view.
It is all done against a backdrop of everyday realities – gossiping, working, shopping, raising children – while facing the harsh realities of being an army spouse.
This is perfectly timed at just 65 minutes, making the criss-crossing voices of the women intense without allowing the monologue to become tiresome.
l Soldiers’ Wives is at the Salberg Studio, Salisbury Playhouse until March 2. Tickets: 01722 320333, or salisburyplayhouse.com.