Arts / Play about PTSD comes to Canberra

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Tim Marriott as Tommy
“SHELL Shock” is a reminder that theatre at its best is always about something real, not an escape from reality.

“CityNews” caught up with a preview performance two weeks ago at Canberra Museum and Gallery and now it will return for a short season at the National Portrait Gallery and CMAG early in the coming week.

A one-man play adapted and performed by British comedian Tim Marriott from a book of the same name by Neil “Blower” Watkin, “Shell Shock” is a white-hot 90 minutes of engagement between actor and audience and flashes by in a minute. Understandably it was a hit at the 2018 Adelaide and Edinburgh Fringes.

Built for touring, the encounter takes place on a bare stage—but I got the sense anywhere would do—backed by a large upstage screen on which imagery is projected to help conjure the flashbacks, nightmares, anger and depression of a soldier recently returned from serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Those interested in psychology will quickly identify the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress disorder in the protagonist, “Tommy”, and his hopes of resolution through the charity “Combat Stress”, but this is no clinical analysis.

The power of “Shell Shock” is found in Marriott’s passionate portrayal of an ordinary bloke who returns home to find his mum sinking into alcoholism, his dad taking off with his secretary and his girlfriend living in a conformist milieu light years away from his experiences.

Dyslexic and badly damaged by the loss of of his best mate, Tommy has been discharged from the forces with few personal resources and, it turns out, no access to psychiatric back-up.

Speaking to “CityNews” close up, Marriott/Tommy tells me of his daily encounters, his ecstatic heights, his desperate lows, his efforts at socialising, the horridly superficial chatter of the people he meets and—something everyone can relate to—the terrifying sense of being trapped in Ikea.

As in any play involving social mismatches, there are moments of humour, but bit by bit, Marriott has you feeling it could be you as he debates whether to go to work that day, whether to move back home and what to it say to people.

At all times “Shell Shock” hovers on the brink of tragedy, but without giving any spoilers, hope surfaces at times and the approachable Marriott invites any audience members who would like to talk about the content of the show to do so.

“Shell Shock”, by Neil Blower Watkin, adapted and performed by Tim Marriott. At Liangis Theatre, National Portrait Gallery, 2pm and 7pm, Monday, October 22, and 2pm, Tuesday, October 23, then Canberra Museum and Gallery, 2pm and 7pm, Wednesday, October 24. $5 and bookings to


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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