Not About Heroes
SO prevalent has been material about World War I in the year or so since the centenary of its outbreak that audiences themselves could be forgiven for suffering from battle fatigue.
Credit then to Eden Court and the cast and crew of Not About Heroes for a new touring production of Stephen MacDonald’s play that manages to avoid feeling overfamiliar in a world full of Great War imagery. That includes a potential pitfall MacDonald did not have to worry about when the play debuted back in 1982, the shadow of Blackadder’s Western Front incarnation, even though Lieutenant Blackadder’s cynical view of the conflict would have found a sympathetic listener in Siegfried Sassoon, whose Soldier’s Declaration made the same point in rather more serious manner.
Blackadder’s comic spectre is quickly banished thanks to the conviction of the two players, Ali Watt as the jaded Sassoon and Thomas Cotran, a Wilfred Owen with a puppy-like enthusiasm for poetry, if no longer the war that has left him near broken and plagued with nightmares.
Unlike recent Gaelic language World War I play Sequamur, which derived much of its impact from a larger cast and strategically deployed film clips and sound effects, Philip Howard’s production rests on its two players.
Both do well to meet a challenge made harder by the stiff-upper-lipped conventions of the British officer class — as represented by the awkward farewell embrace at the start of the play.
However, a surreal moment of ballet like moves from Owen is a mis-step, and far too reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s Hiter-baiting scenes in The Great Dictator to benefit MacDonald’s play.
Although essentially a two hander, there is another actor on stage, Ewan Petrie as the officer’s batman.
He is a silent, near ghostly presence, a symbol of the doomed youth that haunts Owen’s poems, He is a reminder that there are other, less privileged soldiers out there while Sassoon and Owen earnestly discuss poetry at Edinburgh’s grim Craiglockhart Hospital, where Owen has been sent to recover from shellshock and Sassoon to avoid the scandal of a war hero criticising the conduct of the war.
Ever relevant, and not just because of the war’s centenary, this simple but moving play is a worthy addition to Eden Court’s own touring programme.
Not About Heroes returns to the Highlands later this month for the following dates:
The MacPhail Centre, Ullapool, on Friday 16th;
Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye on Saturday 17th;
Lossiemouth Town Hall on Tuesday 20th;
Lyth Arts Centre, Wick, on Wednesday 21st;
Carnegie Hall, Clashmore by Dornoch on Thursday 22nd;
Victoria Hall, Cromarty (to be confirmed) on Friday 23rd:
and Fochabers Institute, Saturday 24th.