Reliving the terrifying raid of the First World War, Wilfred suffers from all-consuming flashbacks, along with terrible nightmares. His graphic distress is uncomfortable and heart-wrenching for the audience, as they watch him shudder on his bed in the field hospital, clutching a pillow to his chest like his fallen friend with silent screams for a medic.
This is a play that is arresting and upfront in its portrayal of PTSD, and the suffering of soldiers trying to handle the guilt of volunteering to kill others. There are many moments of lightness, including Wilfred’s abysmal attempt at poetry, and this character is portrayed in a likeable bashful way – overzealous stuttering aside. But the moments of humour do little to overshadow the struggle of the characters: Wilfred’s inability to cope, and Nurse Syrup’s inability to help him.
The refrain of ‘it’s alright’ throughout the play, from Wilfred to his pillow, and Nurse Syrup to Wilfred, serves only to highlight how completely not alright everything is. Mental and emotional suffering is brought right to the forefront, and displayed to the audience unashamedly. Although Wilfred’s episodes are so regular that the audience perhaps comes to expect them, lessening their effect, they are not overdramatised in a way that is asking for pity. Wilfred himself seems apologetic, constantly apologising to the Nurse for his uncontrollable episodes, not wanting to be a burden on his family at home.
Although at times difficult to watch, Wilfred highlights the importance of understanding how to support mental suffering
In this way, the play does not become the study of a tortured soul’s suffering, as although Wilfred is suffering, he is not a caricature of a damaged soldier, but someone who used to be a gardener, someone who could have been any one of us. This is what makes ‘Wilfred’ so poignant, how ordinary Wilfred seems to be. He is no extraordinary hero, he is a man who writes terribly rhyming poetry, who has a wife and children at home. It is these small stories about everyday lives that make huge conflicts like the First World War accessible to those who live in an era of iPhones and Tinder, and cannot truly imagine trenches or war.
Although at times difficult to watch, with rich and graphic descriptions of blood and violence, Wilfred highlights the importance of understanding how to support mental suffering. If Nurse Syrup knew how to help with Wilfred’s PTSD, perhaps his story would have changed. Wilfred’s mental and emotional anguish is greater than his physical injury, and with today’s emergent emphasis put on mental health as equivalent to physical health, this is a play that evidences exactly why it is as important.