Theatre review: Action Man, Paradise in Augustines

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Corporal Liam Drury has left the Manchester Rifles after eight years, including two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it’s folding and ironing he does well, dossing on friends’ sofas as his benefits dry up, as he tries to project DVDs of friendly films into his head to push out the nightmares of bomb blasts and screams.

Action Man, Paradise in Augustines (venue 152) ****

This is the very first production from Plaster Cast Theatre, with a cast mostly of students from Manchester University, aiming squarely at political theatre. Directed and written by Lizzie Morris, Action Man has a primitive set of camouflage netting and a white plastic screen where flashbacks are played in silhouette. But from a slightly faltering opening and a few raw edges, this exploration of PTSD escalates with energy and commitment.

Morris’ play was inspired by a homeless veteran she encountered last year in Edinburgh, and it was little surprise to learn it was backed by strong research on the issue of homelessness, with two veterans enlisted as advisers.

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Mike Moulton, as Corporal Drury, delivers a slowly persuasive performance of increasing power, even through his braces. The unflinching portrayal of a soldier’s lost life is not simply played for victimhood; we share with friends the suspicion, despite his frailty, that he could do more to pull himself up and out. As he desperately pleads with his daughter’s mother Molly, played by Lolly Isaacs, to let him come home, she tells him she knows he’s ill, but he’s got to behave like an adult.

The choreography of the physical theatre in the piece is raw but effective, from basic training to action with Iraqi Kurds in tackling Isis. Drury remembers the blast that ends his soldier’s career as beautiful, when streams of flaming diesel fly through the air. Zak Davies is particularly strong as the energetically obscene Private Finnegan, and Nick Kane commendably carries off the pivotal role of Private Cox, the sturdy but sadly troubled comrade. Ellie Klouda plays Ella, another friend regretfully running out of charity, while Georgia Brown is excellent as the benefits adjudicator shrugging off a meltdown by the broken corporal.

• Until 11 August, 5:35pm