Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
“This is what war should be like,” says one waggish squaddie in this stage version of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War One novel as he and his pals bet on who’ll win the dog-fight between German and English aeroplanes buzzing about above them. “Like a festival, where they sell tickets.”
As James Alexandrou’s Paul leads a group of small town boys from their quiet fishing spot into the trenches and back again, a gang of innocents become a regiment, with everything the frontline blows up in their faces. The fact that they’re German rather than British makes the brutal poetry of what follows even more haunting. Especially as Giles Croft’s big, impressionistic production of Robin Kingsland’s adaptation moves even further from the 1930 film that made the story famous by having the actors speak in their own estuary voices rather than some phony accent.
There’s an inherent musicality to what follows, and it’s significant that sound designer Matthew Bigg is also the show’s movement director. With dialogue broken up between the eight-strong ensemble like some fluidly choreographed battlefield chorale, the bombardments themselves are created, not through recorded sound effects, but by slamming down metal grilles on a walkway above the main action. Equally inventive, the rat-tat-tat of bullets is created with rapid-fire strokes on sheets of corrugated iron. It’s a trick clearly acquitted from the metal-bashing dance routines of Stomp, et al, but is one here integrated into the action in a far more explosive manner. The end result, as with all wars, isn’t pretty. To see an eighty year old story told with such freshness, however, makes its ugliness all too real.
The Herald, October 30th 2008