Chester playwright aiming to highlight the problems of PTSD

Reporter:

Jamie Bowman

EACH year approximately 15 per cent of veterans are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that forces the sufferer to relive the traumatic events of their past resulting in feelings of isolation, anger and guilt.

Cases of PTSD were first documented during the First World War when soldiers developed shellshock as a result of the harrowing conditions in the trenches.

But the condition wasn't officially recognised as a mental health condition until 1980 when it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, developed by the American Psychiatric Association.

Now Chris Leicester, a writer based in Chester, is aiming to raise awareness of the difficulty faced by soldiers, both in combat and upon leaving the forces, in his novel Hurricane Hill.

Adapted from his hugely successful play of the same name, which saw Chris tour around the UK between 2013 and 2015, Hurricane Hill examines the bond between soldiers on the battlefield and the effects that war has on an individual’s mentality. More importantly, Chris draws attention to the moral challenges faced by soldiers. 

Speaking about the inspiration behind Hurricane Hill, Chris said: “Following the success of the play, the story of these characters needed to be told to a much broader audience.

“PTSD is a severe issue for soldiers, many of whom leave the army and are left to battle with the decisions they’ve made. Many feel abandoned and unable to deal with civilian life; I’m hoping Hurricane Hill will enlighten readers and allow them to relate to the characters.”

Chris first began writing at an early age where a comprehensive school backdrop provided an interesting blend of “playing football, avoiding fights and writing poetry”.

Much later in life he studied creative writing at Liverpool University and went on to run a writing group after that. When one of its members complained that he couldn’t get his stage play produced, Chris formed Too Write Productions over a pint of lager and his vertical learning curve in the tortuous world of theatre production began. 

 The 59-year-old has also been involved in Young Enterprise since 1994 and has taught business in numerous schools across Cheshire since that time. He is a Prince’s Trust mentor and has been a judge and promoter of the Shell STEP and Livewire projects for the last 13 years and is also a board member of youth based theatre organisation Action Transport Theatre, based in Cheshire.

If that wasn’t enough, Chris has also worked to help residents in Blacon set up and run social enterprises –  businesses that trade for a social and/or environmental purpose and which reinvest their profits for a ‘social mission’. It was through this position that he began to become more aware of the problems facing ex-servicemen. 

“I began to meet quite a lot of ex-soldiers who wanted to start their own business,” said Chris.

“The most extreme example was one guy who I recognised but couldn’t place until I realised I’d seen him begging in Chester.

“He told me his story and it made me realise that we should be doing more to keep care of these guys no matter where you stand on the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Originally from Sheffield, Chris, who lives in Christleton, came to see his sister in Chester for a New Year’s Eve party 18 years ago and has stayed ever since. He has two young sons, Tom and James. 

“Hurricane Hill centres on a moral dilemma,” said Chris explaining the plot of Hurricane Hill.

“Which life is more valuable; that of a child or a brother-in-arms? Out in Helmand, the insurgents are using children as young as seven as decoys in fire fights.

“Paul Glover, a young soldier, has to decide whether to follow his training and treat the children as normal soldiers, and shoot to kill, or be killed. Having become a new father himself, Paul’s actions come back to haunt him and he is left asking himself whether he’s done the right thing.”

Chris, who has written six plays and five books, as well as several screenplays, will also see his most recent play Married But Lonely staged in both Chester and Manchester next month.

“Married. But Lonely continues my tradition of writing original, story-based plays,” he said.

“I believe audiences enjoy a good story especially when this is reinforced by credible, strong characters. This production, as with my previous shows, places acting and words right up there on the front line. I direct to make both these as prominent as possible. This means that there are no escape lanes and so the writing and acting really have to work.

“This is a perilous but honest approach, but I am confident this new piece will be enjoyed and appreciated just as those before if have clearly been.”   

Married But Lonely will be staged at the King’s Arms in Salford on September 15 and 16 and at Chester Storyhouse on September 23. 

Hurricane Hill is published this week through Troubador Publishing. 

Email:

jamie.bowman@nwn.co.uk

See full story in the Chester Leader

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