Brighton Fringe 2018
A searingly intimate look at the politics and profundity of war from just behind the front line.
“There is no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is no good in war. Except its ending.” – Abraham Lincoln
Leaving the glaring sun and the sticky heat of the Brighton streets for the cool quiet history and austere sterility of Brighton’s Town Hall, one finds a creeping sense of inevitability pervading the air. A feeling which is only increased as we descend into the depths of the building down winding staircases, through clinically-tiled corridors, and eventually musty and slightly damp cellar rooms to reach our final destination, the Old Police Cells Museum. Candles line wooden shelves and peak out of alcoves casting shadows across the wooden pews which surround the walls as we hear distant gunfire and intermittent shelling beyond the boundaries of the building and a strange sense of companionship hangs in the slightly stale air as we look around the peeling walls and dusty doorways. We are here for the duration it seems.
As our eyes become more accustomed to the flickering flames we begin to make out a young wounded soldier, Lenny (Dan Burgess), his head and eyes bandaged, and a uniformed nurse (Suzanne Proctor of Emmerdale fame) who keeps a careful eye on her old and new charges from a position in the corner of the room like a guardian angel watching over us and the journey we are about to undertake.
“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
– Bertrand Russell
Stories of conflict are never easy to hear and our path through this show is no exception. Writers Nigel Fairs and Gerald Sexton have brought us an insightful and thought-provoking play which thrusts us headlong and sometimes feet-first into shockingly frank and brutally honest accounts of engagements and confrontations retold simply yet very effectively by the three person ensemble, although the harsh truths of wartime and its effects are thrust home with a little too much shouting for this reviewer’s taste. While many of the themes are familiar to us and parts of the plot are a little formulaic, the storytelling is well delivered and there are some fine performances by the cast. The site-specific setting adds much to the show and, perhaps, helps to distract us from some of the weaker aspects of what is overall a very strong production.
This wartime mystery play takes us through many twists and turns on its way to a gut-wrenching twist in its conclusion and is conceptually a very interesting take on a familiar subject with some standout performance moments from Richard Stemp as the shell-shocked army Officer, Andrew, and Suzanne Proctor as the ever-vigilant medic. It is also nice to see these events through the eyes of a woman, an aspect which is not often investigated. Site-specific productions are always challenging but Director Louise Jameson (Eastenders) does a great job of utilising the space and the atmosphere and the final moments of the show which are underscored by The Last Post are heart-wrenching.
In our current political climate and taking into consideration the ever-changing nature of the world, it is sobering to acknowledge the common themes we experience especially when history repeats itself. Perhaps if we could learn from our predecessors we could move forward to a brighter future.
“Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”
– John F. Kennedy