Female soldiers aren't a topic I've seen many plays about, but Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's Belongings sees lesbian soldier Deb (Joanna Horton) in Afghanistan, sharing jokes about women they fancy with her male bunkmate Sarko (cute Calum Callaghan.) Naomi Dawson's set overlaps the desert with her home back in the Westcountry, and we also see her return to father Jim (Ian Bailey,) who makes his living running porn websites. Her mother ran off a couple of years ago and Jim now lives with Deb's old school friend Jo - with whom Deb herself seems to have once had a romantic relationship. At first we bounce between the two locations but as the play goes on the two start to blur, Deb surrounded by these major figures in her life, having to deal with her relationships to all of them.
Onstage for the whole 75 minutes, Horton is terrific as the outwardly strong Deb, who begins to realise that her determination to prove herself as good as the men has made her sacrifice some of her femininity. All the performances are very strong and the production, directed by Maria Aberg, has a good balance of drama and moments of light relief. This is Lloyd Malcolm's first play and I did have some issues with it; for starters Jo's (Kirsty Bushell) relationship with Deb and Jim was unclear for some time, and trying to figure out who she was got distracting. The latter part of the play also veers towards some man-hating stereotypes that don't always make sense - Jim's character may have hints of creepiness from the start but Sarko has to go through an abrupt and very violent personality change as his storyline nears its conclusion. It doesn't feel earned and seems to be there just to give a dramatic end to the Afghanistan scenes, where a bit of ambiguity might have been more interesting. The two women's relationship is interestingly handled though and while flawed this is an interesting evening.
Belongings by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm is booking until the 11th of June at Hampstead Theatre's Michael Frayn Space; and from 16th June to 9th July at Trafalgar Studio 2.