Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Not About Heroes

This excellent production of Stephen MacDonald’s “Not about Heroes” tracks the relationship between poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. The two men first met at Craiglockhart hospital in Scotland in 1917.

Sassoon had been sent to the hospital to silence his criticisms of the war. A decorated officer he became increasingly critical of the war, which he believed was being deliberately prolonged.

Owen is just pleased to be able to meet his writing hero face to face. The story unfolds, as it becomes clear that the student will soon outstrip his master when it comes to the art of poetry.  

Ben Ashton gets the body language of Owen spot on, the nervousness in the presence of the master, then a growing confidence as the two men develop a mutual understanding and affection.

James Howard plays the more confident Sassoon with an air of Noel Coward about him. He goes through the full ambit of emotions from joy at the success of his friend to feelings of guilt as to whether he should have done more to prevent Owen returning to the front where he is killed a week before the Armistice.

Not about Heroes is a fascinating play that centres around the relationship between the two men born out of poetry and the war. Both have a growing revulsion at the pointless loss of life and communicate through their poetry.

Some verse forms part of the dialogue, most notably Owen’s Anthem for Youth, but not so much that the whole thing just becomes about the poetry. The play marks a flowering of creative youth being celebrated against the dark backdrop of bloody war.

Both Sassoon and Owen returned to the front from Craiglockhart, the former being shot in the head but surviving. Owen was not so fortunate but the body of poetry he left at the age of just 24 amounts to more than most achieve in several lifetimes. The messages of that poetry are as relevant to our world today as they were to the fields of France 100 years ago.

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