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Not About Heroes

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


You can hear the bombs from the off in Philip Howard's touring revival of Stephen MacDonald's play focusing on the relationship between poets Siegried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen while incarcerated in what in 1917 Edinburgh was Craiglockhart War Hospital. As they sound, the two men face each other at opposite ends of Kenneth MacLeod's abstract, marble-patterned set, being dressed in the formal trappings of a military uniform that may give them standing, but which will keep more
personal feelings thoroughly buttoned up.

As these two shellshocked casualties find common ground after being thrown together, fanboy Owen gradually grows in stature as the emotionally stunted man who becomes his mentor opens up a whole
new world for him before the inevitable occurs.

It's easy to make such a portmanteau piece look small, but in Howard's hands for this Eden Court Theatre, Inverness production, MacDonald's play is lifted out of its own seeming stiff-upper-lipped roots and invested with a theatrical richness that gives it gravitas and depth. This is done in part  by a use of choreographed movement overseen by EJ Boyle which puts flesh on the horrors of Owen's dreams to accentuate the futility of war.

Central to the production's over-riding intensity are the performances, and, as the poets, both Ali Watt and Thomas Cotran lend Sassoon and Owen an uptight vulnerability and sheer human frailty that clearly fuelled their art. A fascinating addition too comes by way of the third figure of an officers' batman who seems to be a perennial spectre from the trenches, a piece of silent cannon fodder caught in the crossfire so these great men's elegies could take flight.

The Herald, October 13th 2015


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