Wounded Canadian Cassidy Little starring as injured soldier in Two Worlds of Charlie F.

It’s a sunny February afternoon, chilly at -12 C, and Cassidy Little is wearing shorts. When a passerby does a double take, Little laughs and points at his prosthetic leg. “Isn’t it great?” he says. “Carbon fiber doesn’t shiver!”

Little, 32, a British Royal Marine commando, lost the bottom half of his right leg to an IED blast on his second tour in Afghanistan. Now he plays the title role in The Two Worlds of Charlie F., a play that portrays “a soldier’s view of service, injury and recovery.”

Little’s military bearing is belied by his leading-man looks, warm smile and hearty handshake; his voice still carries a lilt from his childhood in Newfoundland. He’s happy to talk about Charlie F.

He initially joined the marines as a quick way to win a pub bet over getting fit. But Little quickly took to military life. “My father is a retired brigadier-general, my grandfather came up on the beaches in Normandy,” he says.

“I’ve got the military in my blood.” It wasn’t long before he was in Afghanistan. “Three months after basic training, my boots were in the dust and I had a machine gun in my hands.”

After his first tour, he applied to train as a medic. When his medical training was over, he seized the first chance he could to return to Afghanistan.

But then came the IED. “The blast took two friends from me, it took my leg from me, it broke my pelvis in two places,” says Little. His recovery required a two-week long medically induced coma and months of rehabilitation. He has more than enough first-hand knowledge to bring to his role.

In fact, The Two Worlds of Charlie F. is based on the real-life experiences of 30 British wounded, injured or sick (WIS) service personnel, some of whom also act in the play. Written by Owen Sheers and directed by Stephen Raine, Charlie F. grew out of a series of theatre workshops at a British military rehab hospital in 2011.

The idea came from executive producer Alice Driver. She was introduced to some WIS soldiers by a friend, a surgeon at a British military hospital. “One of the patients told me, ‘When you are wounded, you become incredibly vulnerable. You lose your sense of self, you lose your purpose and you lose your identity. Fundamentally, you lose your voice,’” she says. “This project was about giving them their voice back.”

Getting involved with the project was a natural choice for Little, who trained in ballet from an early age and was no stranger to performing.

“I was sitting around trying to get my head on straight,” recalls Little, “when a captain came in and said, ‘You used to do stand-up comedy, right? There’s a writer and a director in the next room, and they want to do a community theatre project.’ I wheeled my way in there and I said, ‘You got me.’ Three months later, I was performing in front of 1,000 people.”

The play debuted at the Haymarket Theatre in London in 2012, then had a run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.

“It is joyful, it’s hopeful, it’s funny, it’s rude, it’s military life at its rawest on stage,” says Clark Little, Cassidy’s father, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. “It’s about triumph over adversity, it’s about inspiration. But you don’t have to be a victim of or a participant in war to benefit from it.”

Clark Little has been instrumental in working to bring the production to Canada, and hopes to garner support for a similar program here.

That seems to be an initiative that Cassidy Little would support. He doesn’t hesitate to say that his involvement in The Two Worlds of Charlie F. changed his life. “It gave me back myself,” he says.

Theatre tickets

The Two Worlds of Charlie F. runs Feb. 25 to March 9 at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

For more information or to buy tickets, call 416-872-1212 or visit mirvish.com.

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