A group of injured veterans will be swapping military uniform for Shakespearian costumes when they perform in the production of Richard III in Leicester Square next month. Help for Heroes has awarded a £20,000 grant to support this production.
Formed in 2011, the Combat Veterans Players’ Company (CVP) is a theatre company composed of a diverse range of ex-Service personnel from different branches of the military who have come together to overcome mental trauma, injury and related difficulties through immersion in drama, the development of acting skills and vital performances of Shakespeare’s plays.
In a production part-funded by Help for Heroes, the CVP will be performing in Leicester square on Thursday 7 July at 1845. They also performed in Stratford-upon-Avon last week which was a roaring success.
Shaun Johnson, who plays Richard, saw action in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles of the 1980s. Formerly with the Royal Artillery, Shaun served eight years with a field regiment and three years with a ceremonial mounted regiment. He now suffers from PTSD but says being a member of the cast is helping him with his PTSD and hypervigilance.
He said: “I was a very different person when I left the military. I drifted, failed to connect, drank and became very depressed. After two suicide attempts and spending 10 weeks in a secure hospital, I finally began to live again. My wife Joan played a crucial role in my recovery and stayed with me through all the struggles: without her, I doubt I would be here today. She made me open up and face my mental health problems. I joined the CVP in 2010 and have literally taken off in a different direction. Confident, safe and in love with life again.”
He said he felt a special affinity with this play due to similarities with his own experiences.
“The fact that Shakespeare wrote at a time of great religious division resonated with me too,” he explained. “As a Catholic myself, I struggled to make sense of the religious divide when on tours of duty in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. My mental battle started even before I left England to fly to Belfast, since my grandmother was of Irish Catholic descent and often scolded me for “fighting my own”, as she put it. I wasn’t the only one affected by such pressures; some soldiers I knew were completely cut off by their families when they returned from their tours of duty in Northern Ireland.”
They play will feature 20 wounded, injured and sick veterans.