Review: Not about heroes

Giant Olive Lion and Unicorn Theatre Kentish Town ****


�Stephen MacDonald’s play is set mainly in Craiglockhart, the mental institution which concentrated on shell shock victims during the First World War. The time is November 4 1917.

The boy, Wilfred Owen, has been accused of cowardice and sent to spend his time in the hospital. He has been reading some poems by the great war hero Siegfried Sassoon and is impressed, not only by the poems but also by the fact that the writer, disillusioned by the war, had thrown away all his medals. Sassoon was considered guilty of wilful defiance and also sent to “recuperate” at Craiglockhart. He tells of how the corridors of the hospital echo with the screams of the men who are still mentally in the trenches.

Owen timidly taps on Sassoon’s door with several copies of his book which he is anxious to get autographed for his mother and some friends. Sassoon is impressed by the young man’s own talent, helps him with his poetry and they form a bond of friendship during Owen’s stay at the hospital. Sassoon introduces Owen to his many friends among the literati and they are all impressed by his poetry.

This is a masterful play, very sad but with beautiful dialogue scattered with poetry from the two men played by Oliver Powell (Owen) and Mark Oosterveen (Sassoon)

Seeing this play is a tragic but very beautiful experience. The acting is superb and one feels totally involved in this brief period in the lives of these two men. Indeed, it is the very last period in the life of Owen who, despite all his injuries and against the advice of Sassoon, went back to the front and was killed a week before the armistice was signed.

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The two men have been ably directed by Alex Brown on a single set by Helen Coyston who has created a kind of library – which is the room of Sassoon in the hospital. The lighting is complicated but superbly carried out by Aaron J. Dootson. Until December 3.