Stephen MacDonald’s play is comprised of predominantly, and richly, imagined details of a legendary meeting of minds and souls: those of English poets, Siegfried Sassoon & Wilfred Owen.
It’s not quite Pygmalion; nonetheless, Sassoon is the elder mentor and Owen the young, adoring, awed (but not overly so) acolyte.
There’s nothing too revolutionary about the method; ostensibly flashbacks. But educator, and director, Carla Moore, underpinned by excellent contributions by wardrobist, Lissa Knight, sound designer, Michael J Schell (can you believe that name, in this context?), lighting designer, Owen Gimblett, and whoever was responsible for the set, which was just right, has MacDonald’s homage nailed; thanks, in very large measure to her cast of two (Roger Gimblett is Sassoon; Patrick Magee, Owen).
Aside from one or three stumbles from Gimblett, the pair whistle through a very demanding script, which, although set in a room in Sassoon’s home in bucolic Wiltshire, late, November 3, 1932, takes on a journey from Craiglockhart War Hospital for Nervous Disorders, where the protagonists first become acquainted, to a dugout in Flanders (early November, 1918); with many a lurid stop along the way.
(The synchronicity of dates, you may note, is almost, or entirely, eery.)
Their friendship endured, in this realm, for little more than a year, but its depth and intensity was the stuff of a kind of intimacy normally only realised over decades.
The producers, by dint of timing, as well as capitalising on the reawakened sentiments of Anzac Day, have clearly sought to draw a parallel with Iraq, where wholesale slaughter, on all sides, doesn’t seem to be advancing anyone’s interests. Now, as then, there are, doubtless, bad, even corrupt, or morally bankrupt, decisions being made, in the political stratosphere, the measure of which is in lives lost, on the ground.
NAH zooms in on Sassoon’s singlemindedly principled stand against the war in which he was personally embroiled, injured and honoured, and the backhanded response of the authorities, obliquely questioning his sanity by sidelining him, at Craiglockart; as well as the young Owen’s struggle to live up to his hero’s example, in every way.
Any reminder, on any day, of the futility and costs of war, is timely. That, at the same time, it should remind us of the beauty of life, while pointing, starkly, to its and our fragility, is a bonus. Just as Anna in The Tropics will have you reaching for Tolstoy, NAH will leave you with a literary hunger for Sassoon & Owen.
It’s a grim, but nonetheless uplifting evening of theatre, delivering all the poignancy for which one might hope, thanks to a crispness of production which pervades performances, set, lighting and sound design. Medals of honour to all!
Not About Heroes
Venue: The Reel Room | State Theatre Complex, Market Street, Sydney
Dates/Times: Thurs 26 Fri 27 April Wed 2 Thurs 3 Fri 4 May at 8pm; Saturday 28 April and 5 May at 6pm and 8.30pm