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The Trench – Harrogate Theatre

Writer: Oliver Lansley

Directors: James Seager &Oliver Lansley

Music: Alexander Wolfe

Lighting: Paul Green

Reviewer: Sue Collier


The TrenchThis is the story of Bert, a miner whose rôle is to tunnel under No Mans Land in the war fields of France and Belgium during World War 1.

In 1916 Bert receives the devastating news that his wife has died in childbirth. Seconds later, an exploding mine entombs him and in the darkness within his environment and his mind, he is confronted by a devilish goblin like creature who offers him salvation in return for the completion of three tasks. While completing these tasks, Bert encounters the nightmare of his confined environment before eventually seeking salvation by exchanging his own survival for that of the life of a young man he elects to save.

On entering the auditorium the audience is immediately silenced by the image of a trench in which are four exhausted young men. Over the top are the sounds and sights of No Mans Land. The men merely exist, not knowing when they have to go over the top, or if today will be their last. Bert’s opening soliloquy sets the scene and is spoken in classical English with the remainder of the story told in the third person.

Bert applied to join the army and fight on three occasions but was turned down each time on medical grounds only to be considered fit enough for the equally dangerous job of mining underground in the very same hellish environment. We realise that wherever he is undertaking his task could become his grave as he literally has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Paul Green’s lighting is dark and intense, giving the impression of an environment lit by Davy lamps. A light show presents an image of these miners within the honeycomb of underground tunnels existing between the German and English lines. We realise that the enemy are not monsters, but young men just like Bert.

The imaginative use of props offers a variety of physical experiences. We are with Bert, feeling the claustrophobic tunnel roof pressing against our heads. Then we see him from above, viewing the desolation of war all around him from which he is unable to escape.

The haunting musical accompaniment composed and played by Alexander Wolfe is somewhat in the style of Coldplay and provides ongoing narration throughout the story. It is an important aspect of the overall production and of particular note is a song in which the percussion is achieved via the sound of the miner at work with hammer and chisel. The sounds of dripping water within the music add to the sense of loneliness. The exploding mine makes the audience shake and wait in anxious anticipation to see who survives the blast.

This is a very physical performance with marvellous use of puppetry, ranging from a touching view of Bert’s young pregnant wife to the various forms of the devilish goblin character. Clever lighting enables the audience to ignore that it takes three men to operate one of the puppets.

The audience response is terrific and you can cut the silent anticipation with a knife while waiting to learn Bert’s fate. Theatre is used to its full potential and the 60 minute performance is rewarded with loud applause, cheers and some tears. A stunning performance which has amazing impact on the viewer. Highly recommended.

Runs until 27 April 2013



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