NOT ABOUT HEROES
by Stephen MacDonald.
Theatre by the Lake Studio To 8 April.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
then Tour to 19 April 2014.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
www.theatrebythelake.com (Keswick/Whitehaven performances).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 March.
Regeneration of disillusioned soldiers generates an intricate drama.
In its second decade, Theatre by the Lake has become a centre for bright young directors. Two of them have charge of the mid-spring Main House and Studio slots heralding the main summer season. Mary Papadima (with Dancing at Lughnasa), and Jez Pike give two reasons for theatregoers to come to Cumbria. Pike’s revival of Stephen Macdonald’s two-hander about poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen 1917 meeting in Edinburgh’s Craigklockhart hospital has two performances and a tour added to its initial run.
Owen is the better remembered now; then he was young and nervous both as soldier and poet. Well as Matt Addis plays the older, socially and culturally assured Sassoon, it’s Philip Labey’s young Shropshire Lad who most registers the details of Macdonald’s drama.
He catches Owen’s trench-inflicted stammer at the start, while the mix of trepidation and moments of hopeful joy all clearly register. The young man fresh in the world is clear in his letters home, telling of the important people he’s meeting, with an awed tone and surprised look indicating he still wants to impress his mother.
The pair make fun of a bad poet, though, surprisingly, Sassoon seems not to understand “grame” as an old term for sorrow (surely he’d have met it in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s famous lyric). Perhaps establishing a personal link with young Owen is uppermost in his mind. Macdonald shows the erotic emotion underlying the relationship – of which the older man’s conscious, while Owen comes to feel, rather than understand, the tension it creates.
The war has affected Sassoon more than he admits; in a rare unrealistic moment he first encounters Owen in a gas-mask, provoking an alarmed response. And, behind the action, there’s Martin Johns’ set, a grey landscape of denuded trees, stubby branches sharp as barbed-wire.
Pike’s production falters only in the final scene’s emotional overdrive, forcing, rather than evoking, feeling. In contrast, there’s the scene where Sassoon guides an Owen poem from competence to brilliance. Intensely played and calmly focused on the reworking, the scene creates a matching concentration through the audience. We were, for those moments, there.
Siegfried Sassoon: Matt Addis.
Wilfred Owen: Philip Labey.
Director: Jez Pike.
Designer: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Sanne Noppen.
Sound: Maura Christie.
Dialect coach: Charmian Hoare.