REVIEW: Poignant play a fitting tribute to war poets

Not About Heroes
Not About Heroes

Not About Heroes, by Stephen MacDonald, performed by Blackeyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park, at Alnwick Playhouse, on Sunday, October 26.

If there is one poem which has stayed with me from my school days, it is Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est.

This beautifully written, yet profoundly powerful piece of poetry has stuck because of its imagery and vividity, bringing home the true horrors of the First World War.

With this in mind, I jumped at the chance to see Stephen MacDonald’s Not About Heroes.

This drama, first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1982, tells of the real-life relationship between Owen and fellow wartime poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

The two-man play explores their friendship through a series of flashbacks and extracts from the pair’s real diaries and letters, and is narrated by Sassoon, who survived the First World War.

Owen himself was killed in action on November 4, 1918 – a week before the signing of the Armistice.

Most of the scenes take place during their time as fellow-patients at Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh, in 1917. Act two includes a scene at the Chelsea Physic Garden, which was the last time they met.

The fact that the play includes extracts and diaries from the two men gives it an incredibly personal feel. A number of their poems also feature and were brought beautifully to life by Ben Ashton (Owen) and James Howard (Sassoon).

Ashton gave Owen a vulnerable and awestruck feel, but also displayed an eagerness to learn and a desire to fight.

Howard gave Sassoon an authoritative, yet warming edge. Howard’s Sassoon was also a man who was haunted by the effects of war. Ashton and Howard worked well together, creating a believable relationship between their characters – a crucial aspect of the play.

Staging was kept fairly simple. At times, the characters used a stack of books for a seat, reinforcing their contribution to war literature, while a number of ghost-like figures were dotted around the stage.

This poignant play was a fitting tribute to the legacy of Owen and Sassoon.