Not About Heroes at Trafalgar Studios
As the centenary passes, a loud, impassioned debate continues to lay siege to the legacy of the First World War, with each side establishing its heroes and denouncing its villains while accusing the other of unscrupulous political agendas. Amid the din, if one listens closely, the voices of the war poets can be heard reciting their immovable testaments to the truth, and the pity, of war. Deftly avoiding the dispute, Not About Heroes amplifies two of the great poetic voices, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, dramatising their relationship and reanimating their verse.
Stephen MacDonald’s two-man play expands on their works and letters to imagine Owen’s path to poetic maturity, encouraged by the guidance of his idol. They meet in the Craiglockhart Psychiatric Hospital, where a shell-shocked Owen stammers his timid aspirations to the dauntless Sassoon, a political prisoner silenced for dissent. Sassoon mentors him, perfects his Anthem for Doomed Youth, introduces him in literary circles and watches him gradually blossom into the greatest of all the war poets. In spite of the background horrors of the trenches, and of Owen’s looming death one week before armistice is signed, the play hits a sweet note in portraying the warm and intimate friendship of two very different characters united by a common mission to recount the true misery of war and to deliver their declarations and warnings to those back home.
Ultimately though, the pleasure is in the poetry. MacDonald’s reverent love for the writings of Sassoon and Owen is obvious, and through accomplished performances by Alasdair Craig and Simon Jenkins, here it becomes infectious. As Sassoon, Craig recites Owen’s verse with all the earnestness of an established poet in witness to a new talent greater than his own, and in Jenkins’ stuttered lines the futile tragedy in the poems tolls clear and beautiful. The set and music are spare and adequate; the focus, quite rightly, is on the words.
Not About Heroes is on at Trafalgar Studios until 6th December 2014, for further information or to book visit here.