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The Wipers Times

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars

When the editorial team behind a mould-breaking satirical magazine go over the top at the end of the first act of Ian Hislop and Nick Newman's play, as heroic gestures go, it's no joke. This is World War One, after all, and the merry pranksters from an ad hoc zine called The Wipers Times are on the frontline of battle in the Belgian town no-one can pronounce. Given that the men are genuinely going over the top and into battle, casualties are considerably higher than the occasional suit for libel.

Led by rebellious officers Fred Roberts and Jack Pearson, the magazine allows a rare voice for good-natured if at times scurrilous dissent on the trenches, and acts as an inadvertent morale booster. The bad guys, of course, are the office-bound pen-pushers and top brass bureaucrats, represented here by Sam Ducane’s cartoon toff, Lieutenant Colonel Howfield.

While it never totally transcends its TV roots, the play's sit-com style scenes are peppered with deadly one-liners. These conspire to prove that some targets never change, and utterly deserve to be lampooned. The content of the magazine itself is brought to life through a series of music hall routines and sketches by a troupe of ten in this touring revival of Caroline Leslie's production, originally seen at the Watermill Theatre, East Berkshire.

As Roberts and Pearson, James Dutton and George Kemp make for an amiable pair, who, once the war is over, are roundly dumped on from a great height. The play’s framing device of Roberts trying in vain to get a gig in Fleet Street makes this abundantly clear. Despite this, in the thick of its moment, The Wipers Times becomes a form of survival, as well as a subversive underground publications that is rightly honoured here.

The Herald, November 10th 2017

ends

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