"MY REGRET IS THAT I ONLY HAVE FIVE STARS TO OFFER!" - FringeReview.com
A larger number of veterans who saw action in the Falklands War have killed themselves in the years since the end of hostilities in 1982 than actually died during hostilities. It is a grizzly statistic. Behind each case is a personal tragedy and a story gone untold. It is a wretched thing to lose a loved one to a suicide inspired by the memory of war.
Ken Lukowiak is a survivor, not only of the fight to liberate the islands from the Argentine Junta but also of the post traumatic stress disorder which strikes at ex-servicemen regardless of nationality. The ex-2 Para's memoir A Soldier's Song was published in 1993 in both Britain and Argentina to critical acclaim. John Le Carre once urged, "Next time you hear your child sing Rule Britannia, read him this." Lukowiak's magnum opus has been described as the Falklands' Goodbye to All That, is mentioned in the same breath as All Quiet on the Western Front and is now required reading on several university courses.
The first stage version came to Edinburgh in 1998, adapted by and starring Fringe legend Guy Masterson. The show went on to tour across the UK and overseas drawing the attention of many veterans of combat. This year, the 30th since the Black Buck Raids, the sinking of Belgrano, the battle of Goose Green and the liberation of Port Stanley also sees the return of A Soldier's Song but with an important change in casting. Circumstances have conspired to land Lukowiak in a different kind of theatre. This is the first time that he has taken to the stage himself for any reason. He goes off like a bomb.
Attired like a regular in the bar of your local Royal British Legion Club, speaking with the authority of someone who was there and with the candour of a gifted natural storyteller, Lukowiak storms the stage. No quarter is given. We are subjected to a barrage of sound and lighting effects as well as to the fear, pride, regret and horror of war as it is actually experienced. Authentic goosebumps, direct from Goose Green. When it's all over the audience reel, shell-shocked from Assembly Roxy. There are women on the verge of tears. Men have adopted an immobile set to their jaws and everyone is avoiding eye contact. We have voyaged to the South Atlantic, felt the pangs of homesickness and fatigue. We have rushed under fire to save a wounded foeman and shown two fingers to the top brass.
But the uncomfortable truth of life at the Fringe is that no matter how good a storyteller is or how much they bring to each performance a novice can only draw out so much even from the ripest fruit.
In the hands of Guy Masterson, however, every drop of juice is squeezed from both the script and its originator with not a sign of pith or squeak of pip. If this show were a pub it would be named for the white hart, that mythical quarry sought by prince and pauper alike - something so unusual as to inspire wonder. Here at last is a show with no acting yet pitch-perfect direction. My only regret is that I have just 5 stars to offer - you must see this show. (Dan Lentell - Fringe Review 03/0812)
"NOT EASILY FORGOTTEN. This is as realistic as theatre gets. Here is the experience of war as remembered - as burned into his brain - by someone who took part . Ex-para Ken Lukowiak, who performs here, was in the Falklands in 1982. This has been developed from the book he wrote of his experiences. He reveals for us the horrors that he saw and knew. And we should bear in mind that this was quite a short and small war, not like the very long ones that have succeeded it.
Quickly ww are made aware of the deafening noise and the death of a comrade near by. Time and again Ken Lukowiak takes us into situations where he feels the better part of himself cannot exist, where he has to observe death and dying, as he gradually becomes inured to the sight of corpses. He makes us feel the fear he knew, and he movingly shows us how he regrets some of his pre-war behaviour and the love he feels for his wife as he fights a war 8,000 miles from her.
The great power of this show is added to by its authenticity. You are fully aware that this guy is telling it as it was, as he experienced it. And that, although he mentions the damage he feels was done to him and its effect on his later behaviour, he was one of the lucky ones. Both the generals and the politicians do not come off well. This is on a level above work that is crafted by those who have not been near a battlefield. Lukowiak makes a heartfelt appeal for a better way.
This is not a show that can be easily forgotten. But if there is anyone who is inclined to talk of a good or just war, I would exhort them to see this show, together with anyone who wishes to get an understanding of what it is like to be in the midst of a military campaign. Surely a must see for those comfortable and uncomprehending politicians who "let slip the dogs of war." (Tony Challis - ScotsGay - 24/08/12)
"ONE OF THE MOST DIRECT POST-CONFLICT PLAYS YOU'LL ENCOUNTER. Of all the post-conflict shows knocking around in recent years, this is one of the most direct you'll encounter. Here a former soldier narrates a stage version of his book about the 1982 Falklands War - more an ill-equipped campaign that (successfully) shored up the then crumbling Thatcher government. In the process, the war revived the long-dormant UK military machine, since then kept almost continuously busy in a number of conflicts across the world.
So there's a lot more than just battlefield dispatches in Ken Lukowiak's telling of how, as a paratrooper, he fought in the key points of action on the islands, including the Battle of Goose Green where his battalion commander won a VC but lost his life, like a lot of other comrades now buried there.
Remarkably, there is neither bitterness nor claims of glory here - instead Lukowiak tells it like it is, the grim routine of preparing to go into battle, working out probabilities of who will die as the mortars start raining down, whether to take out that machine-gun post or risk staying put.
Clearly there is a fine line between gallantry and insanity. Even moments such as rescue by a comically surreal Welsh sniper are tempered by the hazards of going in to clean up the enemy trenches. The loathing within the ranks at the Colonel Blimp-like commanders helicoptered in is neutralised by squaddies kicking wounded Argentinians, the act of killing dulled by rage over stolen chocolates. Unexpected songs help us understand the flood of emotions racing through a soldier's mind, feelings that cannot switch off under fire, laced with childhood flashbacks and detacted observations on the ironies of warfare.
In directing his own adaptation, Guy Masterson sets out a simple, uncluttered course for Lukowiak, an untrained performer, while successfully having him range the stage with confidence." (Nick Awde - The Stage - 24/08/12)
"A GUT WRENCHING INSIGHT. In the wake of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War and with Argentina ratcheting up the pressure over the islands once again, it's worth remembering the human cost of that conflict. Few one-man shows could give you a more gut-wrenching insight than this one.
Ken Lukowiak, who served in the Paras, has stepped into the theatrical front line, delivering this potted version of his 1993 memoir of the gruelling campaign. Required to duck down, crouch and adopt defensive positions under loud simulated shellfire at times, he cuts an awkward if affable figure on stage, but that adds to the authenticity. As he relives grisly encounters with Argentinians dead and alive, recalls some sickening army gallows humour and recoils at the screaming nightmare of incidents like the bombing of Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, you realise he is still battling his demons. Unsung heroism? This simple, humbling show embodies the phrase." (Dominic Cavendish - Daily Telegraph - 19/08/12)
"INDISPUTABLY POWERFUL! A Soldier's Song is indisputably a powerful piece of drama. It takes its audience back 30 years to the Falklands War and more particularly the battle for Goose Green, a worthless bit of land 8,000 miles from home for squaddies like Ken Lukowiak.
The monologue was first delivered by adaptor and director Guy Masterson 14 years ago and now makes a comeback performed by its author.
There are painfully realistic scenes where one can see that Lukowiak is reliving the experiences that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The effects are greatly enhanced by a soundscape from Gina Hills that is so realistic, audience members were in danger of ducking beneath their seats.
As a cautionary tale about the horrors of seemingly pointless wars, A Soldier's Song will take some beating." (Philip Fisher - British Theatre Guide - 20/08/12)
"ELECTRIFYING! In 1992, Ken Lukowiak published A Soldier's Song: True Stories from the Falklands to critical acclaim. In 1998, Guy Masterson's one-man theatrical adaptation of the book wowed critics and won him a Stage Award nomination for Best Actor. And now, in 2012 - which marks the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War -Masterson has revived the show, with Lukowiak himself replacing him as the sole performer.
It's a simple premise: Lukowiak simply stands on stage and tells us about his experiences as a soldier in the Falklands through flashbacks to fierce fighting at Goose Green. His story doesn't shy away from the contradictions inherent in being a soldier and a human being; how it feels to want someone dead, but simultaneously to want not to kill them.
There's no sympathy for the military here, and every opportunity to underline incompetence in the upper ranks is justly taken. But it's not a sob story either; Lukowiak faces his contrary wartime emotions with courage and honesty and one scene in which he shoots an Argentine soldier after a ceasefire has been called is particularly affecting.
Masterson's adapted script is first-rate too, exuding raw, gritty humour. Lukowiak's delivery, his ability to re-enact - to essentially re-live his own experiences in the Falklands is hugely admirable, but slightly stiff movements and awkward physicality detracts from its potency just a touch. Still, it's an electrifying piece of writing that shows no sign of losing its relevancy." (Yasmin Sulaiman - Fest Magazine - 19/08/12)
"HARD TO FORGET! Modern gaming often makes a mockery out of war. Yet the same accusation cannot be levelled at ex-para Ken Lukowiak's dignified account of the inner torment and restrained agony of the Falkland's War. Visually forcing you onto the battle, you feel appropriately astonished, inwardly uneasy and surprisingly self-reflective on watching this powerful and passionate performance. Other than a hard-hitting show, here's hoping this does its bit to bring this gaming generation to a more realistic of the true cost and impact of a headshot. After seeing this, no doubt you will agree that, thirty years or three hundred, "we will remember them" - a show like this makes it hard to forget." (Ana-Claudia Magaña - Three Weeks - 11/08/12)
Punter's reviews from Edinburgh 2012
Robert Stode: A Soldier's Song is a one man show performed by Ken Lukowiak telling the story of his involvement in the battle of Goose Green in the Falklands War. This was a riveting and compelling performance. 10/10.
John Snelling: A powerful and incisive production, performed by the soldier in question and thus having a meaning beyond just acting. Although the Falklands War is now 30 years ago, the theme still resonates whilst, what often seem unnecessary and political conflicts cause a loss of life and suffering which is hard to reconcile. A thoughtful and well conceived production.
Jim Taylor: A frank and disturbing monologue by the actual participant - not an actor. Worth going to see.
Adrianne Swallow: A powerful and deeply moving production, with an amazing performance by Ken Lukowiak.
Charlotte Pinder: Some horrible and shameful moments, but not as 'frightening' as billed. This is a story which must be told and must be listened to. A fine performance by Ken Lukowiak.
Roger Nunn: Extremely moving
Rachel Mariner: This was great, and the Fringe is really the only place on earth I see stuff like this. A private in the Falklands tells his true story of war, accompanied by sounds of assassins' bullets and mortar fire. I mean, really, if you ever wanted the opportunity to look at a guy who has really shot another guy dead at point blank range, this is it. The way he told his stories was haunting, sometimes funny, always honest. He came to Edinburgh to tell this story because he knows that for the public, war is a story spun by politicians, but he wants us to know that war is in fact just young boys being ripped apart by metal. He wants a new script for the politician's stories and somehow his time on the battlefield gives his request a certain poignancy. This is what happens at the Fringe sometimes. There is a story, and then there is the fact that the person this really happened to is the person telling me. This is a different theatrical experience to just being absorbed by the narrative. What I think is the upside of this different Fringe-specific experience is that it i not only to entertain, but to teach as the voice of experience. I wanted more in A Soldier's Song of that polemic. I wanted more of what happened to him after the war. I wanted to learn more.
Peter Lindsay: Incredible performance in this one man show. Moving, eye-opening and hugely impressive. Depth and revelation between the battle and the inner soul. An unforgettable and rewarding show.
Sean Davis: (*****) Ken Lukowiak tells of his experiences as a soldier during the Falklands war with the full range of emotionally charged events that such a war can engender. Ken seemingly hides nothing as he speaks of his fears, dismay, stupidity, longings, admiration, and countless other complex feelings. Among the many memorable events is that of him dragging an annoyingly noisy injured Argentine soldier from a still mortared battlefield, and then kicking him to show his buddies that he was not going soft. This show ranked 2nd of the 27 Fringe shows I have seen so far this year.
Anthony Grahame: Deeply moving story well told.
Ian Philp: Guy Masterson brings another thought-provoking show to the Fringe with this stark and often brutal recollection of one man's experiences from the Falklands War.
Mandy Pattinson: Strongly recommend you go see this. It was moving, touching, funny and really had me transported to Goose Green I could picture everything being described. My husband has never seen a one man show before and he was captivated by it which takes a lot! Ken Lukowiak is fantastic and you really feel his pain and emotion as he tells his story. A must go see for the Fringe.
Reviews from the 1998 Edinburgh Festival (with Guy Masterson)
"A must-see. This is the "Saving Private Ryan of theatre!" (The Times)
"A Soldier's Song is an honest and emotive evocation of life on the front line... an exact insight into the nature of futility." (The Herald)
"Delivers the bullet straight to the brain... It's an A1 top-hole, first class, first hand experience of what an exploding shell can do to human flesh." (The Guardian)
"A magnificent, powerfully haunting tour de force. Storm the box office!" (The List)
"We are transported inside the war itself, it's hard to believe you are watching a play. Brutally honest and- unsentimental its the best war movie never made!" (Evening News)
Reviews of Ken Lukowiak's best selling book of the same name
"The Falkland's War has found it's bard. This hellfire Para, whose raw account of Britain's last victory, kicks in the teeth every armchair assumption about war. A backstreet Wilfred Owen, Lukowiak gives a cocky, comic, unforgettable performance in these memoirs of madness." (Mail on Sunday)
"A Soldier's Song merits a place alongside the National Curriculum approved memoirs of Graves or Sassoon. This is crude compelling cluster-bomb of a story that spits hot fragments of undigested rage and pain." (New Statesman)
"In brilliantly written sketches, Lukowiak recaptures sensations and sentiments; being lost on a night march with wet feet, the sudden joy of oatmeal and chocolate, the sudden panic of Argentine attacks... Ken Lukowiak has written the Falklands' Goodbye To All That". (Sunday Express)
"An honest, evocative, occasionally painful and often (disconcertingly) hilarious account of the grim business of war..." (Arena Magazine)
"Sceptical, funny and sensitive... The story of a first class fighting man..." (The Spectator)
"It makes you stop and reappraise conflict.. The sheer human waste and the futility of it all." (Simon Weston in The Sunday Times)
"The reality of war - not it's glory... This is a truly painful, gritty story..." (Daily Mirror)