BRAVO 22 COMPANY
Luke Delahunty, Bravo 22 Company Member Testimonial. Aylesbury Alumni
I was nearly killed in a motorbike crash in 1996 whilst serving in the RAF Regiment. I was 24 years old; I’d joined up at 17 and in those few years I served in Northern Ireland, the Balkans with the UN, Germany, Cyprus, as well as a tour on the Queen’s Colour Squadron. Life was fantastic; it was a challenging series of adventures with some great people in memorable places. That all came to a catastrophic end when the crash happened and my life changed in every conceivable way and I was left paralysed from the chest down. After a long period of rehabilitation my life carried on but now using a wheelchair to get around rather than a gorgeous motorbike.
I set about rebuilding my life, pretty much from scratch. Whilst my physicality had changed drastically, my personality hadn’t and I sought ways to challenge myself and find the thrills and enjoyment that I’d always got from military life. I’ve always been adventurous and up for something new; willing to turn my hand to anything…within reason, of course.
One ordinary day, my only plan for which was to go handcycling, I received a text message from a friend. I’d cracked my phone screen and was heading in to Aylesbury to get it replaced before going cycling. The message said ‘Luke, Helen and I are going to the Waterside Theatre to meet the Bravo 22 company, who has Ray Winstone supporting their production. It starts at 11 and finishes at 2, if you’re interested. Details, as you can tell, have been sketchy.’ Although I asked for more information, like what date this was happening, nothing was forthcoming. I went to the phone shop; ‘It’s going to be an hour or so before it’s ready.’ So I set off pushing towards the theatre to see what this message was all about. I managed to talk my way in to the theatre to see a packed space full of people, a couple of whom were either relating a story as part of the local military community or asking a question. I was still trying to suss out what was going on when that session soon came to an end and the assembled people were either urged to ‘…follow Miriam if you’re interested in acting. Follow someone else for ‘Front of House’ or follow another for technical roles’. I followed the acting lot, not knowing what was going on.
There was a very brief interlude, where I met up with the friends that sent the earlier message and also took the opportunity to meet and get a pic with Ray Winstone. We then went to a room, about 25 of us, and did a very basic introductory acting workshop. During one of the exercises, which was about non-verbal communication, a smartly suited man approached me ‘Hi, my name is ‘so and so’ from Sky News. Would you mind doing a piece to camera after this?’ Of course, was my instant reply whilst I thought to myself, ‘I don’t even know what’s going on. What am I going to say?’ They just asked me about my military service, my injury and how it affected me. Easy. After that, I finally got a chance to speak to someone who actually knew what was going on and they explained what Bravo 22 Company was, told me about a play called ‘The Two Worlds of Charlie F’, I’d heard of it but I didn’t see it. Everything started to make sense now…kind of. So…would I be interested in being involved in their next venture? Yeah, definitely. As I said earlier, I’m always looking for a new challenge. Now, I would never describe myself as a performer or actor. I hadn’t been on stage since the primary school nativity play, but they seem like a great bunch of people and it could be fun. Who knows? So I registered my interest and went to collect my phone.
A couple of weeks later Gemma rang me and said they wanted me to be part of the play. Wow! Instant butterflies. What have I gotten myself in to? Can I really do this? Excitement and self-doubt were battling for the most prominent emotion in that moment. Excitement won, just.
Soon after this, the cast assembled. It was a rag-tag, assorted bunch with varying involvement with the military, some veterans, some still serving, military wives, daughters of people serving, youths and adults from the cadets, all ranging in age from 15 years old to an 89-year-old WWII veteran. Each had their own story and over the next few weeks, our stories were gathered in a variety of ways and the writer, Ros Wylie, wrote a script that incorporated our stories and memories. For a month we did nothing but role-play, voice projection exercises, improvisation and stage skills and such like. We were itching to get a script and start actually learning what we were to perform. Well, I was.
Once the script for ‘Contact’ was written, we then fine-tuned our parts, ‘I wouldn’t say this quite like that’ or ‘this wouldn’t happen that way in military life’ and other such things to give the play a little more authenticity. It was exciting to see things taking shape and to be involved in the whole process. Learning the script was the next step followed by rehearsing for the next few weeks. The anticipation built as performance dates approached. During the time spent rehearsing, the military banter would flow as relationships and friendships were built and strengthened and the old familiar camaraderie came flooding back.
The performances were amazing… I mean that it felt amazing. The adrenalin that came from it gave such a great buzz. We may not have been word perfect but the audience wouldn’t know that. The applause from the crowd after our five performances felt fantastic. After all, we were only telling our stories, different aspects of military life… but they loved it.
That was a couple of years ago…
A few months ago Gemma got in touch again, not on behalf of Bravo 22 but another project… an opera company that wanted some veterans to be part of the company for a story about war. Would I like to audition for it? Now, I’d never describe myself as a singer but I’ll give it a go… So last weekend, I made my opera debut. I still can’t believe it or keep a straight face when talking about it. Me? Acting? Singing? On the stage? Haha.
You never know where things might lead or what life has in store but I’m so glad to be a part of the Bravo 22 Company. It has brought opportunities that I would never have expected. I’ve met people from all over the country and made friendships because of it. I’ve learned a lot, not just about acting or stagecraft but also about myself. Chiefly, I’ve learned not to listen to that self-doubt. Feel the fear and do it anyway.