Friday, 12 September 2014

Not About Heroes

Napier University, Edinburgh
Three stars
It is more than thirty years since Stephen McDonald's study of the
relationship between poets Sigfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen while both
residents in the Edinburgh-based Craiglockhart War Hospital appeared
during MacDonald's tenure as artistic director of Dundee Rep. Arriving
in Edinburgh in a new touring production by Feelgood Theatre
Productions as the latest in a flurry of plays produced to commemorate
the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War,
the play's mix of poetry and condemnation looks more pertinent than
ever.

This is especially the case when performed inside the striking looking
building where Sassoon and Owen first met long before it became Napier
University's Craiglockhart campus. Here we see Owen as a young, nervy
and shell-shocked literary groupie who suddenly finds himself in the
same institution as one of his idols. While Owen is initially cowed,
under Sassoon's guidance his writing finds a voice, and Sassoon opens
him up to big league literary society in the first half of Caroline
Clegg's suitably intimate production. With the momentum of the play's
second act driven by Owen's poetry as well as letters home to his
mother, when the inevitable happens, the loss damages Sassoon forever.

There's a stiff-upper-lip poignancy to MacDonald's script, in which the
eloquence of the two men on the page and the social ease they feel
around each other only goes so far emotionally. This is made clear in a
pair of powerful and understated performances by Simon Jenkins as Owen
and Alasdair Craig as Sassoon. At the play's crucial heart is a
deep-set understanding of the futility of war and the heartbreak it can
cause.

The Herald, September 10th 2014


ends


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