What makes a war honourable? What makes it dishonourable? And is there such thing as an ‘honourable war’ or is the fact that countless lives are wasted something that makes the words honour and war mutually exclusive? And how are those who have fought wars and left physically and mentally scarred, ashamed, and with a feeling of guilt supported? The critically acclaimed monologue Leaving Vietnam raises all these questions – among others – but fails to give a straight answer. Instead, it explores the unprocessed trauma, anger, and hatred of an all-American man, and how those feelings can involuntarily strengthen the populists’ voices that have grown stronger and louder over the last couple of years.

Credit: Jane Hobson

Jimmy Vandenberg is what comes to my mind when I think about a hard-working man in the more rural parts of America. Brought up by his grandmother and the always disapproving looking picture of his uniformed grandfather, he started working in a Ford factory from a young age, met a girl, fell in love, and did what a lot of young men all over the country did in the sixties: signed up (or was drafted) to join the Vietnam War. For Jimmy, this was something he had to do. He had to prove himself to the disapproving picture. And maybe to his young girlfriend. But to what costs?

The play is set in a garage, where Jimmy has spent the majority of his time after he retired from his factory job before he was actually ready to retire. He talks about his friends, his wife, his work – and how he recently was visited by a dead man, an encounter that led all of his tucked-away trauma and pain to resurface and him to relive and retell the story of his life and time in Vietnam. The audience is guided with subtle changes in sound and lighting through various episodes of memories that discuss the violence committed by the U.S. Marines in the so called ‘Demilitarised Zone’ which was in fact the very opposite. Jimmy was doing what he was told to do; Jimmy was doing what he was told to think was right. But, either through the influence of an idealised comrade named Jesus Alvarado, his own thought processes after his return from the war, or the pure fact that he returned to an America where people were demonstrating against the war, Jimmy realised that “we (meaning the U.S.) had no business being in Vietnam. We were asking for trouble”.

Credit: Jane Hobson

And trouble they got. Leaving Vietnam introduces multiple issues that the U.S. is currently facing. Be it the fact that veterans of different wars are treated differently (but altogether badly), economic issues, racism – you name it. Without actually exploring it, the play also introduces the thought that those deeply-rooted issues are the soil on which current populist views and voices can grow almost unchallenged, which I think is nothing new.

Although writer and performer Richard Vergette brings the story of Jimmy to life in a moving and believable way, I missed the bigger picture, the point, the “make America Great Again” cap. The introduction of the gay son of former Marine comrade Alvarado and the row he has with his wife over his newly-gained political view fall flat and short after the time taken to tell Jimmy’s life story. Leaving Vietnam is definitely thought-provoking; I am just wondering if it were the thoughts intended by the writer.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

2 Star Review 3 Star Review 4 Star Review 5 Star Review 2022 2023 Adaptation Almeida Cabaret Camden Fringe Cast Announcement Christmas Comedy Dance Drag Edinburgh Fringe Edinburgh Fringe Interviews Fringe Immersive Interviews Jukebox Musical LGBTQIA+ Lyric Hammersmith Manchester Musical New Musical News New Wimbledon Theatre North West Off West End Park Theatre Play Review Revival Richmond Theatre Round Up Royal Court Theatre Shakespeare Show Announcement Show Recommendations Soho Theatre Southwark Playhouse Touring Production VAULT Festival West End

    The infamous Sh!t Faced Showtime are back in London with a festive edition, they have taken Dickens’ classic and put a drunken spin on it. The formula is the same as other iterations of the Shi!t Faced shows, one member of the cast has been boozing, and this time it is John Milton who plays Scrooge. Before the show, half a bottle of Jim Beam, some wine, and beer have been consumed in the previous 4 hours. The rest of the cast, try to keep the show on track, also aided by James Murfitt as the compere, Charles Dickens. The … More A PISSEDMAS CAROL – REVIEW – LEICESTER SQUARE
    Spine-tingling yet heart-warming, Mark Gatiss’s retelling of A Christmas Carol truly encapsulates the haunting atmosphere of a Victorian ghost story, balanced out with enough humour so as to capture the festive season. Led by Keith Allen as Scrooge, with Peter Forbes as Marley, this show is perfect for Christmas viewing. The set design by Paul Wills is instantly captivating, containing stacks of metal cabinets towering over the theatre, moveable by the cast to allow space for other central props like doors, beds and tables. In addition to this, the puppetry design by Matthew Forbes is incredibly clever, adding creepy elements to the show such … More A CHRISTMAS CAROL – REVIEW – ALEXANDRA PALACE
    The title of this winner of Theatre 503’s 2023 International Playwriting Award by Roxy Cook may seem like the set-up to a joke, but the narrative that unspools is instead an affectionate, gently barbed and at base quite sobering portrait of three ordinary souls (and one restless feline) adrift in modern Moscow. There is much affable, satirical back-and-forth commentary on the accepted myths & stereotypes of the Russian spirit & soul. Beset by the indignities of age, opportunism, graft, fatigue, the characters orbit one another, doomed to play out their roles in an unjust, predatory and saturnine universe. The play opens … More A WOMAN WALKS INTO A BANK – REVIEW – THEATRE503
    Peter Pan Goes Wrong first premiered in London at the Pleasance Theatre in 2013, and earlier this year the show made its Broadway debut. Now the production is back in the West End for the Christmas season. Following on from The Play That Goes Wrong, in this production, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is staged by the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and goes awry, disastrously so. The meta-comedy is filled with slapstick comedy, sometimes the humour may be predictable and silly, but it’s universally funny throughout – there is something for everyone here, and the laughs come thick and fast … More PETER PAN GOES WRONG – REVIEW – LYRIC THEATRE
    Drawing heavily from the classic canon of the British supernatural, HighTide’s trio of contemporary Gothic narratives uses traditional storytelling formats to address contemporary themes. Directed by Elayce Ismail, reverent musical interludes accompany tales of apparitions and nighttime conjurings that speak of women from the East of England. Unfortunately, the effect is less chilling and more lightweight, with conventional structures, predictable plot twists and an over-reliance on external forces to drive narrative shoring up some of the less relatable aspects of the genre. Nicola Werenowska’s The Beach House, perhaps the cleanest of the three tales, tells of a mother and daughter’s … More GHOST STORIES BY CANDLELIGHT – REVIEW – SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE

Leave a Reply