FEATURE: Bob Jeffrey – Dragon – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Photograph taken by John Pugh

Ahead of his play Dragon coming to The Exchange in North Shields on Thursday 14th until Saturday 16th June, we caught up with writer Bob Jeffrey to find out a little more…

I have always enjoyed writing plays but this photograph, taken by a Geordie soldier, of a makeshift sign in an Afghan battlefield has made this play special. It is how my play Dragon got its name. But not just that – it has acted as my inspiration over the past couple of years to tell a story that I feel needs to be heard.  A quick look at my tattered print-out of the picture reminds me of the sacrifices army veterans make and how their stories, and their family’s’ stories, need to be told.

My play Dragon (Thursday 14th until Saturday 16th June at The Exchange cultural arts venue in North Shields) has been a long-time in the research and the making. The play, which has been co-produced with The Exchange, is now successfully funded by the Covenant Fund, which has £10 million each year to support the Armed Forces Covenant by funding projects which address specific priorities, and North Tyneside Council’s Cultural and Public Health Departments. And helped by local charities such as VODA.

The subject of the play a hero, Tony, fighting for his country in a foreign land and then returning home to carry on an even a longer fight which also affects his family. How does a family deal with this trauma?

The idea of the play stems from working careers adviser in North Tyneside and elsewhere some 10 years ago. A time when in Afghanistan the injury and death rate of our armed services was alarmingly high.

Lots of pupils due to leave schools and colleges were coming to me saying they were thinking about signing up for the army. They had a myriad of reasons (I want to get out of my parents house, I want to be James Bond) and needed to know more about what they were getting into. As with any career I always felt it was important that they were told both sides of the story – the upside of which there is a lot with a life in the services – but also the downside.

I was particularly interested in researching what life was like for army veterans when they left.  As I did this I kept on being confronted by frightening statistics regarding high levels of divorce, addiction, mental health, rough sleeping, and tragically suicide. I started to think about my own life and my previous job as a policeman. I had seen colleagues who had witnessed terrible things and sometime having terrible things done to them. I knew that many of them had been long term, deeply affected. So if that happened in the UK, in police work, what in earth must it be like in war, seeing, hearing, smelling battle, injury and death all around you?

The catalyst for the play then came when I read a book called A Million Bullets by James Fergusson (who I am delighted to say is speaking before our Friday night performance), written about the Afghanistan War. In it there is a whole chapter based around the Battle of Now Zad. A small platoon of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers were told they had to defend an important hill from the Taliban for about 10 days. In fact in the most difficult conditions imaginable they stayed for 107 days – the longest trench warfare battle the British Army had been involved in since WWII. The experiences were unfathomable – what must it be like to go through that and return home? Also why had I never heard of this before?

But as I mentioned at the beginning it was the photograph in the book – the wording – that really caught me. It made a huge impact on me. As I researched Now Zad more I started to find out that lots of these soldiers were from the North East – proud Geordies. That was the final piece that sealed in my mind what Dragon would be about. A Whitley Bay lad coming home after the battle to end all battles – to face with his family, his most important fight of all – with himself.

It has taken a massive research, speaking to lots of  veterans and charities,  and finally meeting some of these tremendous, but shy, Now Zad guys (including the man behind the photograph of the sign). For me the picture of the sign symbolises what those soldiers went through.

There are free tickets available for 100 veterans at here

My play Dragon has been a long-time in the research and the making. The play, which has been co-produced with The Exchange, is now successfully funded by the Covenant Fund, which has £10 million each year to support the Armed Forces Covenant by funding projects which address specific priorities, and North Tyneside Council’s Cultural and Public Health Departments. And helped by local charities such as VODA.

Dragon is at The Exchange in North Shields from Thursday 14th until Saturday 16th June.

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