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New Greenham Arts - Not About Heroes

20th to 22nd November 2003.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Tragedy of war

Not About Heroes, at New Greenham Arts, from Thursday, November 20 to Saturday, November 22

Stephen Macdonald's poignant First World War drama chronicles the tender and moving relationship between Lieutenant Wilfred Owen and Captain Siegfried Sassoon following their evacuation to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh in June 1917.

One hundred and fifty British officers suffering from shell-shock were treated in this hospital for the tortured minds during the First World War, although many of the commanding officers equated shell-shock with cowardice.

Sassoon was so enraged at the slaughter that he threw his Military Cross into a river and was sent to Craiglockhart to keep him quiet and not spread alarm to the general public about the horrors of the trench warfare. War was certainly their scourge but it also made them wise.

Within this closed environment we have the shy, hesitant, stammering Owen in awe of Sassoon and desperate to learn and develop his poetry from his hero. The two men's poems and letters to each other and Owen's to his mother are lovingly quoted.

Their mutual respect and admiration and Sassoon's encouraging recognition of Owen's talent and the younger man's emerging greatness are played out with both sincerity and power against vivid memories of their harrowing battlefield experiences.

Ciaran McConville perfectly captured the character of Owen; he even looked uncannily like him. He starts as the naive, stammering young officer, hero-worshipping Sassoon but as he learns to accept Sassoon's enthusiastic encouragement of his poems he emerges as a powerful and courageous poet, who gained a Military Cross one month before his death in November 1918.

Justin Trewren, as Sassoon, played his part with total sincerity and utter conviction. This was a powerful performance that moved from the arrogance of a brave young man to the deep pathos of a broken soldier who mentors his student and tries to persuade him not to return to the slaughter of trench warfare, to no avail.

The simple but atmospheric set consisting of pallets and wire helped to create both the trenches and the sparseness of the hospital. One and One's director Pete Watt should certainly be pleased with such a moving and powerful production.