Not About Heroes - Review

Stephen Macdonald's play, through a dialogue based mainly on their poems and correspondence, recounts the fascinating story of the friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, two of the finest World One War poets.

It tells of their meeting at a hospital for nervous disorders where Owen had been sent following a mental breakdown brought about by the horrors of the front line in France and where Sassoon had been put to cover up the embarrassment caused by his public criticism of the way that the war was being prolonged. Their friendship develops through a mutual abhorrence of the war and the waste of young lives that they express through their love of poetry. It movingly tells of Owen’s fateful need to return to the front line in order to prove that his need to tell of the horrors of war is not driven by cowardice.

In this two-handed play Nik Hedges and Carl Boardman excelled as the poets, bringing them to life with passionate and moving performances. Carl as Owen managed to capture the shy provincial young lad, lacking in confidence but passionate in conviction and emotion when moved to do so. In contrast Nik gave us a far more sophisticated, privileged character unable to express his emotions until forced to retell the death of another young soldier that he had befriended. I found this scene deeply moving as I did for all of Nik’s performance in the wheelchair scene. It was at times almost too painful to watch.

These fine performances reflected a production that had been directed with great sensitivity by Alex Epps. I was astonished to learn afterwards that this was her directional debut. She has set herself an extremely high standard to live up to for future productions.

A pleasing aspect on the night that I attended was not only that the actors were able to play to a full house due to a coach load of students being present but that these young people were held in rapt attention and seemed to be moved by the words of Owen and Sassoon as had other generations before them.

Barrie Jerram