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It Is Easy To Be Dead

Oran Mor, Glasgow
Four stars

We only fleetingly see the figure of Charles Hamilton Sorley as a fatally wounded captain in Neil McPherson’s dramatic homage to the Aberdeen-born poet who was killed in the frontline of the First World War in 1915 aged 20. Up to that point, Alexander Knox plays Sorley as a bright eyed boy hungry for life, with the world seemingly at his feet and beaming with precocious charm as he moves from Marlborough College to teenage travels in Germany before enlisting for his final fate.

The wounds of this unnecessary loss are etched on the faces of Charlie’s parents, who, played here by Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee, open the play by having to take receipt of the inevitable telegram that becomes the final dispatch from the frontline among a bundle of exuberant letters home. As the play flits seamlessly between Charlie’s confidences and his parents’ attempts to keep his memory alive by publishing his short life’s collected works, the poems become totems, not just to help his parents survive, but as an elegy to an already accomplished literary talent.

Liz Carruthers directs the cast of the original 2016 production, first seen at the Finborough Theatre in London and brought to Scotland by producer Bréon Rydell in association with Edinburgh spoken-word night Neu! Reekie! Scenes are punctuated by songs from the era performed live by pianist Elizabeth Rossiter and singer Hugh Benson, with the effect part parlour room entertainment that provides an ironic counterpoint to the horrors of war.

McPherson’s play appears almost polite in its low-key labour of love, but is no less powerful in the company’s hands. At the show’s centre, Knox lends Charlie an intelligent and charismatic dash. As a hint of what might have been, this honours the play’s subject by bringing him to life with a suitably poetic flourish.

The Herald, November 13th 2018

ends


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