The Trench at the Old Vic Tunnels
The Trench is a play from London troupe Les Enfants Terribles, based on the true story of a miner trapped beneath the battlefields of WWI. The oppression wrought by Sam Wyer’s designs and Paul Green’s lighting was deepened by the earthy closeness of the Old Vic Tunnels. Dripping moisture seeping from brick walls and occasional rumbles as trains passed overhead added to the claustrophobia to help tell the tale of the benighted soldier.
Originally a narrative poem, The Trench evolved through devising, shaped by co-directors Oliver Lansley and James Seager. The story is told through songs written and performed by Alexander Wolfe, puppetry, physical theatre, and spoken verse. It’s a strange marriage of the modern and the antiquated. Carried on Wolfe’s voice, we’re lifted from depths of despair to a divinity that seems hardly possible. The immersive sound design creates a bleak landscape textured with live effects (the scrape of bow on string, nails on guitar steel) and the ubiquitous ringing of tinnitus.
Lansley, with Alfie Boyd, Conrad Sharp, and Tim Jackson, dances, crouches, and stoops through the muck, now accompanying Wolfe’s singing with rifle crack and hammer on chisel, now bringing the horrors of mustard gas alive through machinations of a vast subterranean creature. Their recitations, at times prosaic, at others rhythmic and measured, plunge us into the deep past of British theatre, playing counterpoint to Wolfe’s mellow modern sound which is not unlike that of Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
This is excellent story telling. Plunged into blackness, we were given a glimpse of hell and, together, came out changed. The central message that “no thing” can justify the horrors of war hit home in a time when we are numbed to on-going conflicts all around. It’s easy to see why The Trench was a sell-out success this year in Edinburgh.