SOLDIER On is a new stage play written by Army scholar turned actor turned writer and director Jonathan Lewis, who considers what happens when a company of ex-soldiers turns into a company of actors.

Becoming a theatrical band of brothers may not be a cure-all, but the bonding, the humour, the theatre of war helps to put them back together again as a company of veterans and actors rehearse a play about a company of veterans and actors.

Although worlds apart, they begin to realise there are more similarities between military life and the theatre than they bargained for, building a powerful new world of their own.

Produced by Amanda Faber for the Soldiers’ Arts Academy, Lewis's production visits the York Theatre Royal Studio from Wednesday, hot on the heels of this week's main-house play Minefield, wherein veterans from both sides of the Falklands/Malvinas War of 1982 tell their stories of the war and their lives since then.

Soldier On combines storytelling and dance as a passionate group of individuals – many of them Army veterans – bring to life their experiences, laying bare many shocking but sometimes heart-warming truths in a show that one veteran, filmmaker Neil Davies, has called "The Full Military Monty".

Lewis's intention is for every cast, crew and audience member to be in touch with "some very real and often disturbing facts of life about the world in which we live, specifically Britain in 2018".

Hence the Soldiers’ Arts Academy is backing the seven-week national tour this spring to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by around 66,000 veterans injured mentally and/or physically or those experiencing transitional difficulties.

Soldier On comes to York via Lewis knowing Theatre Royal artistic director Damian Cruden for three or four years. "He's a director I'd always wanted to work with and in fact he cast me as Eddie Carbone in A View From The Bridge," Jonathan says.

You may recall that production did not go ahead at the Theatre Royal, instead becoming a tour with Stephen Unwin in the director's seat, but nevertheless Lewis and Cruden remained in touch. "We have children of a similar age, and we started talking about working on something that would connect with that." That play, Lewis's The Be All And End All, will receive its world premiere at the Theatre Royal in May, directed by Cruden.

In the meantime, Soldier On arrives on Wednesday, boosted by audience responses so far. "We had the premiere at the Northcote Theatre about a month ago and the play's had an amazing reaction. Standing ovations at every show," says Lewis. "The play's not only about veterans, it's about caring for people, and that's the message."

Lewis had been an Army scholar at Exeter University, studying politics and society – "mostly politics with a bit of sociology thrown in," he says – but was invalided out of the Army at Sandhurst after hurting his back. As he had done plenty of acting at school and university, turning to acting "seemed a no-brainer".

"There are similarities between being an actor and being a soldier: putting on a uniform; learning your lines; playing a role," he says. From three years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, he graduated to doing theatre roles aplenty, not least a year at the National Theatre. "While I was there, I started writing Our Boys about being invalided out, which won awards, and then I did two years' 'service' as Sgt Chris McCleod in two series of ITV’s Soldier, Soldier in the 1990s.

"I think it’s safe to say that the military and the themes that arise out of serving Queen and Country are never far away from me. And now more than ever we need to support the thousands of people who’ve served and returned – to validate and affirm them, in a world that seems to be turning upside down."

This prompted Lewis to write Soldier On, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at its core. "We now have much more of an understanding of the existence of PTSD than we ever did, so how do we get better at moving beyond knowing and acknowledging to creating opportunities for veterans to process these complex emotions in a positive and life enhancing way?" he asks.

"I’ve written Soldier On for exactly this purpose: to create a piece of theatre that can sit alongside the other great creative work that is happening, that is both entertaining and cathartic for its actors and its audiences.

"The ancient world knew all about the horrors of war. After a battle was fought, traditionally the survivors would make a big fire, stand around it and talk about their experience of the fight. They would create a shared narrative which helped to process the trauma and bring the warriors together.

"The modern warrior, even with support networks, often feels isolated and neglected, and on returning to the communities from whence they came there is a disconnect. No longer needed. Surplus to requirements. Soldier On is my contribution to help warriors with the daily battles they face on their return."

As awareness grows of PTSD, Jonathan says: "There is awareness, rather than denying that it exists, but now we need to find an antidote to it, where if you have been involved in a world of destruction, the antidote is to be creative," he says.

"The tour brings the clear message to local communities that the arts can provide a viable alternative to sport as a recovery route and we'll also announce a national initiative called Art Force, which will aim to encourage veterans to build art hubs where they can get together with their local community and into work. The tour will be accompanied by workshops for veterans and schools too."

Among those benefiting from participating in Solider On are veterans Cassidy Little and Shaun Johnson. "Like rehabilitation, the arts are always moving forward," says Cassidy. "New ideas complement old ideas and fresh ideas revitalise dated concepts. I'm so pleased to continue my recovery in a project like Soldier On, allowing me access and opportunity with actors, writers, creators and like-minded people on a similar path of recovery."

Shaun enthuses: "Soldier On is an excellent opportunity for the audience to spend time in our REAL world. This play gives us a voice to highlight physical, mental or transitional challenges often faced when leaving the military."

Jonathan Lewis, we salute you.

The Soldiers’ Arts Academy presents Soldier On, York Theatre Royal Studio, Wednesday to Saturday, 7.45pm plus 2.30pm, Thursday, and 2pm, Saturday. Tickets: £14.50, concessions available, including for veterans and serving forces personnel and their families. Box office: 01904 623568 or at