Pros: Superb acting, beautifully woven script, touching story.
Cons: A tad slow in parts.
If truth be told it was a Monday night and after a long and painful day in the office, I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this show. I arrived exhausted and even my friend who attended with me tried to console me, to no avail. I absolutely was a mess. However as soon we were ushered into the theatre and I noticed the sand bags strewn across the entrance, the old war helmets hanging around sporadically and the beautiful poetry scribbled across the walls, my interest was pricked and I instantly perked up.
No matter where you were in the world I’m sure almost all of us saw the incredible Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red art instillation at the Tower of London this year. Overflowing with ceramic red poppies, each one representing a life lost in conflict during WWI, it was both stunning and poignant as it commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The timing of this run of Stephen MacDonald’s WWI drama, Not About Heroes, couldn’t have been more perfect.
First performed in 1982, Not About Heroes is a drama telling the story of the real-life relationship between the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Told through a series of flashbacks and reading of letters, I found this story beautiful to watch but also extremely upsetting as we knew from the offset that Owen was tragically killed one week before Armistice day in 1918.
This play was set predominantly around Craiglockhart hospital in Edinburgh 1917 where both men were being treated for shell shock and nervous disorder. It tastefully documented the men’s first chance meeting and the year ahead which held, it felt, so much promise. Both acts were narrated by Sassoon, the more established poet out of the two men, but also as the survivor it allowed for some touching moments of reflection as he knew the outcome of what happened to his beloved friend. Sassoon was played by the strong Alasadiar Craig who commanded the stage. I found Craig’s portrayal of Sassoon superb in his portrayal of a bitterly cynical man, yet with a very warm heart. Simon Jenkins as the more naive and provincial Wilfred Owen, is equally outstanding. His Owen, upon meeting his hero Sassoon, is wide-eyed and star struck at the start and as the play progressed, we watched him slowly become the poet he was destined to be. Yet this was to be cut short by the very subject matter he wrote so honestly about, war. Both actors are together on stage for the whole time and as they fleet between monologues and wartime madness, they are an absolute joy to watch.
It was a bit slow in parts as most of the play is told through the letters the men wrote to each other and I felt the director could have experimented a bit more here instead of the constant stage forward reciting. In saying that however, the direction overall made for a touching piece and I found some of the poets’ final scenes together beautifully handled with due care and respect. Stephen MacDonald’s script is like velvet for the ears because the spoken word, prose and verse throughout this wonderful production is just sublime.
Author: Stephen MacDonald
Director: Caroline Clegg
Producer: Feelgood Theatre
Booking Until: 6 December 2014
Box Office: 0845 505 8500
Booking Link: www.londontheatredirect.com/play/1609/Not-About-Heroes-tickets.aspx