Not About Heroes

Unity Theatre, Liverpool
14th - 18th October 2014

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

A chance meeting of ravaged minds in Craiglockhart military hospital, for shell-shocked and traumatised army officers, is the inspiration for Stephen MacDonald's poignant and much travelled play about the tragedy of wasted lives, sacrificed on the bloody battlefields of World War 1.

It's 1917. The lights go up on two actors sharing a minimalist stage, which will double as both bedroom and via two well spaced desks, an umbilical chord when the pair are separated and back in active service.

Alastair Craig plays the aloof and dominating role of Siegfried Sassoon, faced with the arrival of trench warfare damaged Wilfred Owen, played by Simon Jenkins.

Owen, a fledgling poet in his own right, is in awe of the status of Sassoon's corruscating verse on the futility and senselessness of it all. Unlike Owen he has arrived at the hospital, compus mentis, and with a Military Cross in tow for bravery in action. An upper class establishment figure, he has been strategically derailed in his determination to denounce the War as inhuman.

Poetry becomes the bond that tentatively leads to a chance friendship between the two as their relationship, spiritually if not physically, blossoms.

From a stammering, shy, nervous, and unsure start Birkenhead- born Owen's persona gains in stature as Sassoon takes him under his wing. By stressing improvements to and eventually extolling the virtues of Owen's work by promoting it himself through his cultural circle, Sassoon enhances his protege's reputation and status, before the tragic ending of this partnership of minds.

Central to what the play is all about are the words and poems which the protagonists debate, concur and applaud each other on, but never denigrate.

There are also their intimate letters and those back to the people that count; family, friends and colleagues, whichever front they are serving on.

What develops on stage is heartwarming and heartrending at the same time, and the actors carry it off with both a candour and resignation, whilst waiting for it all to end.

Not About Heroes portays the pathos of the human condition in times of great stress and manages to effect emotion in the most stirring fashion. The Unity audience demonstrated that in its applause tonight.

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