Writer and Director: Tom Stuchfield
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
A telling production on the sombre subject of the First World War, Tom Stuchfield’s play is brought to life through the witness of many characters, played by the six actors who are on stage for the whole of the play.
The company comprises a varied group drawn not only from the allied countries but also from the common enemy. Standing for two and half hours at lecterns behind microphones, they largely appear to read their scripts, letting the sheets fall as they finish with them. Most of the text is in English although there are important insertions in French, Italian and German. Mainly written in dialogue, the work also contains straight narration.
Several of the players take turns to deliver this and all seem to cover more than one role. There is also some gender-blind casting. Added to the lack of physical movement and little in the way of costume, this can make for confusion. As it stands, the work would make a very good radio play as so much is left to the imagination. The BBC censors, however, would not accept the soldierly vernacular language.
We are taken through the disaster of the Somme in 1916 for which one of the characters largely blames himself causing him to have a nervous breakdown. Confusion is all around. Tactics are discussed, orders are given and countermanded. On the home front, there is family friction, even in such troubled times. Hearts are broken and so are promises. There is chaos everywhere, physical and emotional. Relationships change, some fall apart, others become strengthened and some are turned upside down.
Based on true stories and reminiscences, while some are on active service, the civilian participants make their homes where they can. This is often in a place not of their choice, with loved ones often out of contact.
The second act is set in the action on the Austro-Italian border as troops come upon a deserted village. Time has passed. War weariness is prevalent on every side and those in the field of battle can still discern no obvious plan of campaign. The lack of physical action continues but is made up for with the all too realistic noise of battle. Meticulously timed sounds of explosions and machine gun fire tends to drown out the actors, even though they maintain throughout a continuous volume of sound enough to compete with any drill sergeant of the old school. All deliver their lines with snapping speed and admirable clarity.
There are touches of gallows humour to lighten the evening, especially with the belated arrival of the American contingent. The last scene in the dugout narrowly misses a touch of Black Adder but there is still enough atrocity and mayhem to keep to the theme.
Reviewed on 3 July 2017 | Image: Guy Clark