Lydia Housley reviews


Writer and performer Mary Jane Wells describes this play as “a compassion grenade”. Such a juxtaposition of humanity and violence sums up Heroine perfectly and it is rare that you find a piece of theatre which so delicately manages to balance the funny with the shocking, the heartfelt with the raw, but this play manages to cover this wide spectrum of emotions all the while remaining grounded in the reality of the issues it addresses.

Heroine is a one woman show, written and performed by Mary Jane Wells, in which she plays Danna Davis. Davis is a lesbian soldier in the US Army, who is violently raped by three of her male colleagues and then goes on to serve alongside one of them in a mission in Iraq. Wells’ fine use of words and smart use of physicality brings Danna’s interactions and inner thoughts to life. She seems to float from memory to memory before us and even on a blank stage, we believe we are with her in her therapy sessions, in the Iraqi war zone, and in the back of the car where she is assaulted.

Part of the testament to this transportive world created in a bare black box theatre is the admirable work in lighting and sound, designed by George Tarbuck and Matt Padden respectively. The shapes projected onto the floor, each illuminating a section of the stage where Wells portrays different facets of Danna’s life, are refreshing and unusual. The lighting changes to take us into Danna’s thoughts are sharp and well thought through, leaving no confusion as to their purpose for the audience, as non-naturalistic lighting often risks doing. The sound design is similarly well thought through and adds depth and realism to all aspects of the play, if being slightly too overbearing and intense at points.

What really makes this play stand out though is the conversations it starts and the light it brings to issues which many are not aware even exist. In 2017 it was estimated that 80% of sexual assault cases in the US Army went unreported and out of the average 22 veteran suicides everyday, 18 of those are military sexual trauma survivors. Danna’s story ends with hope, hope for her moving forward with her life, healing and forgiving and changing her relationship with the past. However, not all stories end this way and the insular institutions of the US and British Armies are unequipped to support survivors in the correct ways, an issue which this play exposes in stark light. Mary Jane Wells’s ‘Heroine’ proves, in her own words, that “artistic energy and healing energy are the same thing, with different focus".

Heroine runs at the Traverse Theatre until 1 February 2020.