The Finborough’s latest offering is The Sweethearts a topical glimpse into the lives of modern British soldiers serving in Afghanistan. A slightly disappointing drama from playwright Sarah Page it imagines a manufactured girl band, The Sweethearts, playing a charity gig at Camp Bastion on the eve of British troops’ departure from the country. Four soldiers are chosen to guard the pop princesses. Rarely out of the tabloids the girls are spoilt, bitchy and more than a little tired of each other. The soldier’s aren’t much better bickering about which ones they want to sleep with. Things change drastically however when an attack on the camp forces the two groups to shelter together for their own safety.
Promising more intrigue than it delivers The Sweethearts is fun in parts but let down by some limp acting in the serious moments and a story that grips but fails to be convincing. The set (Alex Marker) transforms the Finborough’s tiny space into a tent in the camp barracks, perfectly re-creating a claustrophobic atmosphere under canvas. The young British characters from hugely varying walks of life are thrown together in this tiny space and emotions run high as their lives are put at risk. The dialogue is easy to digest and relate to, mostly focusing on a compare and contrast between the soldiers banter, the neurosis of the pop stars and the serious undercurrent of reality which separates the two groups. Whilst the girls are world famous for wearing skimpy outfits and singing terrible songs, the 4 unknown soldiers are risking their lives on daily missions fighting the Taliban.
The story is dialogue rich and action poor with too many story threads to maintain. Although there is lots of nice characterisation (Jack Derges’s sex mad Lance Corporal Mark Savy and Maria Harjah’s wild child singer Helena) the meandering script dilutes the emotional power. Although individual actors shine (Laura Hanna as no nonsense Corporal Rachel Taylor and Doireann May White as kooky pop star Mari), their characters remain slightly stereotypical. Despite good bomb sound effects and costumes that make them look the part the actors aren’t able to overcome the physical restraints of the space and the emotional climax feels wooden, the uneventful conclusion dissatisfying.