BURY THE DEAD
by Irwin Shaw.
The Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED to 24 November 2018.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm/
Runs 75 mins No interval
TICKETS: 01223 357 851.
Review: William Russell 1 November
Dead but they won’t lie down
First staged in America in 1936 this is the first London production of this play written by then then 23 year old Irwin Shaw in 80 years. It is an expressionist piece set in the second year of the war that is to begin tomorrow night. Make of that what you will. Shaw went on to write other plays, screen plays, served in the Signal Corps in the American army in the Second World War and became a wildly successful writer whose books were published in 25 languages and he was regarded as a “master of the popular novel.” By any standards this play is an amazing debut.
A detail of soldiers are burying six comrades killed in battle. But the dead refuse to lie down, rise up and insist on not being buried. This throws the army, the powers that be, the church, and the newspapers of the time into confusion. The men have stories to tell. They do not want to have died in vain for a war they really did not understand, a war to which they had gone for all sorts of wrong reasons.
The generals are horrified, their raison d’etre is being challenged, the Church tries exorcism, the rabbi joins with the padre in pointless prayer, and the newspaper editor turns a blind eye to the story. Then the authorities try their master stroke – they send the wives and girl friends and mothers to talk to the men.
The piece has been skilfully staged by director Rafaella Marcus and the large cast do it justice, each playing several roles. They are all good, but the most impressive work is done by the two actors who play all the female roles, Sioned Jones and Natalie Winsor.
It is very mannered, but Shaw’s language is tough and to the point, and his attack on the way the Great War was sanitised by all those memorials to the fallen, the wreaths and the poppies and the patriotic call to arms to fight for a cause not fully understood hits home. There is one scene where a wife tries to persuade her dead husband to lie down in the grave with a nice tombstone and lovely flowers which is particularly telling, and a horrifying moment when a mother demands to see the face of her dead son killed by a shell and, after resisting, he shows her and she rushes howling with grief and horror into the darkness.
The Finborough is dedicated to the resurrection of “lost” plays and whatever one feels about the play, and some fine it preposterous and mannered, this is one more achievement to add to many. For me it worked as a piece of anti-war drama which gave voice to the rank and file – memoirs of war are invariably written by the officers not the men.
First Soldier, Private Levy: Luke Dale.
Sergeant, Private Webster: Scott Westwood.
Second Soldier, Private Morgan: Liam Harkins.
Priest, Second General, Bevins: Simon Balfour.
Rabbi, First General: Malcolm Ward.
Private Driscoll: Keeran Blessie.
Private Dean: Stuart Nunn.
Private Schelling: Tom Larkin.
Captain, Charley: Guy Warren-Thomas.
Doctor, Editor, Bess Schelling, Elizabeth Dean, Julie Blake, Martha Webster: Sioned Jones.
Stenographer, Reporter, Joan Burke, Katherine Driscoll: Natalie Winsor.
Director: Rafaella Marcus.
Ser & Costume Designer: Verity Johnson.
Sound Designer: Anna Clock.
Lighting Designer: Martha Godfrey.
Movement Direction: Chi-San Howard.