Writers: Ian Hislop & Nick Newman
Director: Caroline Leslie
Music: Nick Green
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Ian Hislop and Nick Newman take the quite frankly unbelievable true story of Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton) and Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp) of the 24th Division, Sherwood Foresters, and produce an old-fashioned celebration of the Great British spirit.
1916, the mud-soaked trenches of Ypres, and arguably the most horrific conflict of the 20th Century. As the “gas-gongs” and “whizz-bangs” explode above their heads, Sergeant Tyler, a member of Roberts and Pearson’s troop, finds an abandoned printing press and so is born The Wipers Times (named for the Tommys mispronunciation of Ypres). Due to censorship the emphasis is on humour, the content entirely satirical: wry in-jokes lampooning the dire conditions of the trenches, spoof advertisements, gallows humour evident throughout.
It is subject matter usually treated with gravity, but as befitting the editor of Private Eye, Hislop has gone down the humorous route. Best described as a play with music, it is presented as a series of short scenes punctuated with music hall spoofs of the actual articles and ads, rather than a smooth narrative. Therein lies its problem. There is an overall feeling of disjointedness and an unnecessary amount of padding that hinders the pace of the production, at two hours twenty minutes, it outstays its welcome by a good half hour.
The performances are universally good, each cast member utilised to best advantage. However, there is an issue with diction and projection in this vast, unamplified auditorium, the rapid-fire dialogue lost at times. That said, this is a highly interesting, gently amusing and enjoyable evening at the theatre and a welcome relief from the more cynical blockbusters and celebrity-filled productions currently touring the country.
The Wipers Times itself may only have been flimsy newsprint, but it meant so much more to the morale of the troops in the trenches, and the fact that this almost lost piece of WW1 history is being seen by audiences the length and breadth of the country is a fitting tribute to the men involved.
Runs until 11 November 2017 | Image: Philip Tull