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Cat Jones’ play “Glory Dazed,” which finishes up today at the Underbelly, contends that there is a disproportionately high number of ex-servicemen now serving time in British prisons because, whether as servicemen or prisoners, men of such extreme masculinity cannot ever hope to really belong in our society. The play’s hero Ray (Samuel Edward-Cook) initially shines like a buccaneer, bursting on stage with an irresistible merry fury. He is drenched in blood and soaked in alcohol. Ray is a turbulent, restless character, but his exuberance will never flag. He has all of the best jokes, but he has most likely picked them up from Frankie Boyle. An old barmaid has an arse like two transit vans fighting over the same parking space. His mate Simon (Adam Foster) is so desperate that he would fuck a stab wound.

Ray has broken into Simon’s (sadly unnamed) pub after closing time and forced the landlord and his two barmaids (Katie West and Chloe Massey) – one of whom is Ray’s ex-wife – to stay up past their bedtimes for an improvised lock-in. Ray’s invasion of the pub is effectively the Afghan war in microcosm: he is on the unlikely mission of persuading his ex-wife to take him back, but he will be endlessly distracted and innocent bystanders will be terrorised and injured in the course of operations. There is little melodrama to Ray’s assault on the pub, however, and his prisoners seem to wearily accept the lock-in. He does not confiscate their phones and they only superficially protest when Ray begins to ply them with vodka.

All of the performances are unimpeachable: Cook proves to be as grand as King Lear in playing the mentally awol solider, whilst Foster is particularly good as the forlorn stay-at-home who is resigned to being the conscience of the play. Yet despite being produced in collaboration with ex-servicemen prisoners, surprisingly little authenticity has rubbed off on “Glory Dazed.” The Scotman finds the pulse of this play when commenting upon its “tired, televisual feel.” We are in a world which otherwise exists only in soap operas. Ray is the tough guy who turns out to be soppy and ultimately sound underneath. His wife tries to understand, but she has needs too. The other barmaid is a dippy piece of fluff. It is like Hollyoaks with swearing – perhaps a renegade episode which has been scripted by Frankie Boyle.

Each of the characters is obliged to recite stock opinions about the Afghan war, and these interruptions leave annoying lumps in the play. If Ray jokes that “opinions are like arseholes: everyone has one but it doesn’t mean that I want to hear about it,” then this line will come back to bite “Glory Dazed.” Despite the social commentary, however, the moral of this story remains inexplicable. Ray cannot be expected to accept the boredom of civilian life in Britain, and at the end of the play he is reconciled to being kept in an institution. He is ultimate a wise maniac – aware of his failings but seemingly determined to manage them.

Militarism is no longer an option for Britain – not least because we have not had any practical reason to go to war with another nation for decades – but this play demonstrates that many men are not decommissioned just because they have left the army. Defusing Ray, however, appears to be impossible.

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