NOT ABOUT HEROES
by Stephen MacDonald
Clwyd Theatr Cymru (Emlyn Williams auditorium) Mold CH7 1YA To 29 November 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 2.45pm.
Run s 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0 845 330 3565.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 November.
Poets in war speak too loudly here.
Since 1982, when Stephen MacDonald’s play was first seen in Edinburgh, and partly thanks to the piece itself, the meeting of the two war poets involved in the city’s Craiglockhart hospital has become better known. Wilfred Owen was starting-out as a poet, from a lower-class background in Oswestry, while Siegfried Sassoon was well-established socially and in the London literary world.
MacDonald draws on the poets’ accounts of their not-too-strange, but certainly inspiring, meetings during the months in Craiglockhart during 1917. His two-hander intercuts their meetings with reminiscences by Sassoon – who lived until 1967; Owen died in action a week before the Armistice.
There’s a mix of the realistic and the reflective, allowing Owen’s final, unfinished poem ‘Strange Meeting’ to be heard midway. But the general style is realistic, even when Sassoon is reflecting on Owen. (Nearly a third of a century on, it’s possible to want a more complex role for the younger poet than MacDonald allowed in a play which, in its time, opened a little-known wartime episode).
Tim Baker’s Mold revival is true to the ambiguous affection between the men. Both poets were gay, but terms of liking which now seem openly sexual were not unusual a century back with a wider connotation and the production has just one moment seeming to suggest the existence of physical desire. This sticks to the historical record and allows the wider focus on Owen’s “pity of war”, with personal intensity.
Designer Mark Bailey creates a grey room amid bare-twigged trees reminiscent of the battlefield landscapes by war-artists, backed by a tree suggestive of a cross, recalling the title of Owen’s ‘At a Calvary Near the Ancre’.
Unfortunately, the actors are allowed to treat the script as pronouncements, with overt emotion. Though the poets knew at first hand the horrors of war they talk to each other as individuals – in Sassoon’s case, also remembering a friend returned to war – and the terrible conflict scarcely needs reinforcing in the denunciatory tones often employed here. Subtlety and variety are missing, and a lot of the power of the play, as a result, missing.
Wilfred Owen: Owain Gwynn.
Siegfried Sassoon: Daniel Llewelyn-Williams.
Director: Tim Baker.
Designer: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound/Composer: Dyfan Jones.
Assistant director: Ceri Roberts.