Brighton Fringe 2014
Sassoon and Owen, two poets meet at Craiglockhart Hospital when a shy Owen introduces himself to Sassoon, a well known poet at the time. The play explores their growing friendship whilst looking at their war poetry.
Not About Heroes’ is an engrossing play about the friendship between the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. They meet at Craiglockhart Hospital where Wilfred Owen was being treated for shell shock and Siegfried Sassoon was being treated for his mental condition, pacifism! Wilfred Owen was an aspiring poet who came under the wing of Siegfried Sassoon who soon recognised the talent in Owen. The play is told in a series of flashbacks where Sassoon, remembers the meetings with Owen to discuss poetry and blames himself for Owen going back to the trenches feeling he could have done more to dissuade Owen from returning. Owen himself is tormented that his commanding officer believes him to be a coward and needs to prove to himself that he isn’t, even though as he is against the futility of the war. Owen went back to France in autumn 1917 and was killed one week before the armistice in 1918. They correspond by letters with Owen trying to be optimistic and Sassoon fearing for his friend’s life. The play is called ‘Not About Heroes’ but Owen did in fact win the military cross shortly before his death.
The two actors are splendid and speak the poetry with feeling. Colin Eimer as Sassoon trying to hide his growing love for Owen as he increases his regard for Owen’s poetry. David Eaton as Owen, shows all the youthful enthusiasm of a young man meeting his literary hero, learning so much from the eminent poet he adored and gaining in confidence himself. The two of them hold the stage for the length of the two act play. Sassoon’s description of how Owen was loved by the men under his command, joking with them and keeping up morale before being machine gunned by a river was truly moving. Jerry Lyne’s direction was tight and kept the energy running throughout. The only minor quibble I may have is concerning the film sequence of the first world war at the start of the play. We see the men marching to war as heroes before seeing their wasted dead bodies in the mud. Although making a point, I felt that this went on a little too long as we have all seen these kind of films before. However, this does not detract from a very good production of the play by Stephen Macdonald, written with great skill from the letters between Owen & Sassoon, from Sassoon’s memories and from letters Owen wrote to his mother. It is hard to keep an audience’s interest for two hours with only two actors in such a wordy play but this production completely succeeds.
I am very ignorant about the poetry of Owen and Sassoon and this play has encouraged me to start reading them.