Pros: Well written, well directed and well acted. Enabled the audience to consider the horror of war without feeling hopeless or depressing.
Cons: Quite a small space so you can sometimes feel a bit in the way of the actors. Also Buck’s Irish accent wasn’t quite believable.
Going to see a play about two men trapped in the trenches during WWI would not have been my first choice over the festive season, so I was dubious when I was allocated Fear in a Handful of Dust and expected it to be a real downer. However, I was mistaken. Despite the subject matter, this play crackles with snappy dialogue and humour, inviting you to consider the terrible sacrifices made by so many men 100 years ago.
The play focuses on the desperate situation of two young men, Buck and Simon, total strangers who are trapped in a trench together surrounded by the enemy. The men start off wary of each other but quickly develop an affectionate and caring relationship, helping each other to survive. Neither is a native of England, so both are fighting for someone else’s country and both believe the war to be a futile waste of life, making their sacrifices somehow more poignant.
The relationship between the two men is fundamental to the play not being totally depressing. The audience watch them gaining each other’s trust, enjoying each other’s company and showing each other real kindness. In short, making an unbearable situation bearable. The acting was believable and honest and Jack Morris (Simon) and Henry Regan (Buck) found humour and intensity in the dialogue. The sad parts weren’t overplayed or maudlin or either. The only gripe I had was the Buck’s Irish accept wasn’t quite right and rankled a bit.
COGARTSpace is a tiny venue above a pub in Islington so I was amazed what had been done with the space. The set designer has cleverly turned the rectangular room into a WWI trench with a strip of mud that runs down the centre, flanked by two rows of seats each side and pallets at either end representing the beds of the two actors. Essentially the audience formed the walls of the trench. It was simple but effective and made you feel like you were there with the two men. I was in the front row and I had to tuck my feet under my chair sometimes to get out of the way of the actors. Sometimes this claustrophobic feeling was great because you felt like part of the action, but sometimes it felt a little too close for comfort, especially when one of the actors stripped down to total nudity a few inches from my face!
The sound and lighting were fantastic. Simple but well executed, it added to the claustrophobic feeling of being in the trench. The audio featured bombs, gun fire and the low rumble of war. It was atmospheric but never too loud so it didn’t distract you from the acting. The lighting was moody, changing from blues to reds to create atmosphere.
The costumes were also fantastic. If they weren’t real WWI uniforms, then they looked very realistic. Both actors both stripped off at points and then put their uniforms back on, so you got a sense of how soldiers in the trenches would have lived from day to day.
Fear in a Handful of Dust is an excellent play. The hour and a quarter zips by. And you might get to see a bit of nudity too!