The Wipers Times: Ian Hislop and Nick Newman
Theatre Royal Nottingham
Runs: 2h 30m: one interval: till 1 September
A memorable piece of theatre.
It’s surely no coincidence that editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop, co-wrote this play. Printed by and for British troops in the Ypres Salient during the Great War, The Wipers Times paper was an early forerunner of Private Eye. It was a happy combination of puns, parody, and close to the wind comment that ridiculed the day-to-day experience of the common soldier caught up in the horror of industrialised warfare.
The lampooned staff officers safely behind the front are divided about the paper’s merits. Is The Wipers Times a morale booster, as easy-going General Mitford (Dan Mersh) maintains, or subversive and morale sapping, as reactionary Lieutenant Colonel Howfield (Sam Ducane) fears?
It begins at the end, in a post-war newspaper office with ex-Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton), who along with Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp) had edited the paper, unsuccessfully seeking work. Here, and during the rest of the play, the contrast in attitudes between those who were in the trenches and those who were not is made stark. And it’s a poignant scene when Roberts, home on leave after being gassed, is trying and failing to explain things to his wife Kate (Emilia Williams).
But just like the paper itself, the play isn’t all gloom. In a black sort of way, the text is laugh-aloud funny – there’s a nice swipe at the contemporary cliché, with all those war poets submitting tons of their stuff, mostly rubbish, to the paper, only to be binned.
Printed material from the Wipers is acted out with period music-hall song, and even superbly choreographed dance every bit as strong as the acting. And it all happens on a visually stunning set with realistic sound effects as background.
The play is a homage to those brave men whose reaction to their own suffering and that of those around them was to subject it to merciless satire. A packed house appreciated it, and quite right too. It’s a memorable piece of theatre.
Barnes: Amar Aggoun
Henderson: Kevin Brewer
Nurse/Madame Fifi/Lady Somersby: Clio Davies
Lieutenant Colonel Howfield: Sam Ducane
Captain Roberts: James Dutton
Lieutenant Pearson: George Kemp
Dodd: Chris Levens
Deputy Editor/General Mitford/Sergeant Tyler: Dan Mersh
Smith/Bobbing Bobby/Chaplain: Joseph Reid
Kate Roberts: Emilia Williams
Director: Caroline Leslie
Designer: Dora Schweitzer
Lighting Designer: James Smith
Sound Designer: Steve Mayo
Composer: Nick Green