EACH SLOW DUSK
by Rory Mullarkey.
Pentabus Theatre Tour to 23 November 2014.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 November at The Hive Worcester.
A great war play, original and richly reflective in form, in a splendid production.
In a small space designer Ellan Parry evokes the craggily bomb-disrupted landscape of the Great War’s Western Front as Rory Mullarkey’s poetic new play encapsulates the British soldier’s experience in under an hour.
It is poetic, though the first act reads like a series of stage directions. These form the dialogue, with the three soldiers, Private, NCO and commissioned officer refer only to himself and always in the third person. This brings a detachment placing precise moment-by-moment sensations (He tries to shift the corporal’s body”; ”He feels the captain put his head under his shoulders to support him”; “He pretends to be checking his entrenching tool”) within a wider context.
The three typefaces are the only way of identifying who is speaking in the script: Captain, Private, Corporal. Thought and action merge, as in the urgency of attack, the typefaces like identity discs for recognising the dead.
All, together yet separately, are darkened in the dusk (the title’s from Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’) On stage, though, there’s no confusion. David Osmond’s educated, art-loving Captain, his fresh-faced neatness emphasising his near-adolescent youth, seems even younger than Sam Heron’s earnest Private, while Lee Rufford brings a sour-expressioned viciousness to someone who’s found a brief métier, combining fighting with a measure of command; his “entrenching tool” sounds more menacing each time it’s mentioned.
All three are concentrated and economically expressive; known only by their ranks they become recognisable individuals, people who look at us from old photographs and films.
In the second act, a Woman of today visits a battlefield memorial, disorder and dirt replaced by cleanliness and order, the reality of the young soldiers turned into an old photo amidst colour projections of memorials both massive and antiseptic, with its Visitor Centre and grass growing over a huge bomb crater.
Yet, as Joanna Bacon’s calm narrative proceeds, the visceral enormity of war invades – she slips in the mud, finds objects once specific soldiers’ possessions, culminating in a final vision made more intense through memories of the first act’s detail, in Elizabeth Freestone’s vivid and sensitive premiere of this remarkable play.
Private: Sam Heron.
Captain: David Osmond.
Corporal: Lee Rufford.
The Woman: Joanna Bacon.
Director: Elizabeth Freestone.
Designer: Ellan Parry.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Each Slow Dusk was developed with the support of the National Theatre Studio.