REVIEW: Not About Heroes: Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth

REVIEW: Not About Heroes: Shelley Theatre, Bournemouth

Exactly one hundred years to the day that the poet Wilfred Owen was machine gunned to death on the Western Front,

What better date for Bournemouth’s Arena Theatre Company to stage Stephen MacDonald’s moving and thought-provoking play about the appalling slaughter of the First World War and its profound effect on two of the finest literary minds of the era?

Even more so because one of those ‘minds’ belonged to Owen himself. The other was that of Siegfried Sassoon. Not About Heroes finds them temporarily invalided out of the fray and meeting as fellow patients at Craiglockhart Military Hospital for Nervous Disorders.

Owen, played by Brian Woolton, is a young idealist at the start of what promises to be a brilliant writing career. Despite suffering from shell-shock he is determined to return to the frontline and tell the truth about the horrors of the battlefield.

Sassoon (Grae Westgate), just half-a-dozen years older, is established as both a poet and a war hero. His arrival at Craiglockhart has been ordered by his commanding officers in response to a public and embarrassing (to the authorities) condemnation of the war. Best to pretend he’s suffering from nervous exhaustion!

There should be praise for both actors for their impressive command of the characters but perhaps particularly Westgate who took over the role of Sassoon at short notice. This was an excellent production directed by Paul Nelson that probed the growing relationship between the two poets but probably more importantly Owen’s growing confidence and the development of his poetry. It also examines the wider cost of the conflict, the extraordinary death toll and the brutal intransigence of the generals and politicians who orchestrated the carnage.

Slipping back and forth in time, it weaved their poetry and letters into the story. Atmospheric lighting and sound enhanced the sense of dread as they both return to the front line

War-weary Sassoon is back in hospital within weeks having taken a sniper’s bullet to the head. Owen, with so much still to give, dies in a hail of machine gun fire… exactly a week before the end of the war. He is just 25-years-old and his parent receive the telegram informing them of his death while Britain is celebrating victory in the war that was supposed to end all wars.

Source : BournemouthEcho

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