The Army is experimenting with performances of Greek tragedy to try to get soldiers to open up about the psychological wounds of war.
More than 120 serving paratroopers and veterans this week became the first to see if 2,500-year-old plays could help them come to terms with what they had seen on 21st century battlefields.
A performance for members of 2nd Bn The Parachute Regiment saw actors use sections of fifth century BC plays by Sophocles to try to get soldiers to talk about issues such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Fiona MacDonald, of military charity Glen Art, said showing the production to serving troops was an attempt to get them to open up about any mental health problems early.
She said: “We are a military charity where most of the people we support have PTSD and many have suffered for a long time. To be able to bring something which can help people come forward and talk if they are having problems, and maybe before they have got too bad, is a great privilege.”
“In America, Bryan has had people come up saying ‘You have saved my son’s life, or saved my life’”
She went on: “When you have people who have been in combat, they recognise these words that were written so long ago and recognise that if you have had those experiences, you are not alone.
“That is such a big thing. Nearly all the veterans I meet with PTSD say that they feel alone.”
The production by theatre company Theatre of War has been performed hundreds of times for members of the US forces.
But a UK military charity now wants to bring the performance to British troops and is seeking funding to take the production to other regiments.
The performances include a reading from Sophocles’ plays Ajax where the Greek warrior goes mad and kills himself and a reading from Philoctetes touching on the military’s duty to care for troops.
Bryan Doerries, the director, said the very age of the plays by Sophocles, an Athenian general, helped troops realise they were not alone in dealing with problems like PTSD.
He said: “Because they are so old, they are not threatening to audiences. When a military audience sees one of those ancient plays they don’t feel like we are accusing them of anything.
“We are asking them to reflect and ask what they can recognise in this.
“When service members and soldiers of today see their own experiences reflected in an ancient story, it brings immense relief.