Prague Fringe 2015
It is World War I. A Welsh minister and a young Irish Guard become trapped in a collapsed dug-out after a German night raid, leaving the rest of their regiment trapped outside. They must find a common language in order to communicate. By referencing their bibles they manage to construct a bastardised form of both Irish and Welsh, but the gravity of their plight becomes far greater than they had envisaged. ‘A powerful piece of writing performed with competence and true grit… well worth seeing’ (Kingston Arts Council).
As the audience is entering a young woman in flowing period skirt sings a sad melody while the title Bás – Shallow Death is projected on the back wall over the actors heads. Five men are in an underground bunker. One sits alone reading from a bible, another sits at a make-shift desk writing a letter, the other three drink beer, smoke cigarettes, wrestle and clown around loudly. The soundscape of artillery violence underscored and at times dominated the action.
As the war gets more and more intense and the soldiers run to fight and smoke filled the theatre. One returns with a bullet hole in his leg. Another returns just before the collapse of the wall at the entrance to the bunker, blocking them in. Both men pray to their God asking that He send them home again to their wife and girlfriend. Though they cannot speak to each other due to language differences they manage to communicate through their belief in God. Eventually the wounded soldier gets gangrene and is given the last rites, says his confession and dies just before help can arrive.
These masterful young actors truthfully portrayed the sadness and tragedy of men at war. They made solid, believable choices and I felt their pain and anguish as they suffered through the brutality. The actor who played the wounded soldier was convincing to the point where I was cringing at how badly he was suffering from his wounded leg.
This is the most complete production of any I have seen at this year’s Prague Fringe Festival. It has a very involved and believable set created using canvas, hanging on the walls and spread on the floor covered with red dirt. The actors are costumed in boots and woolen military jackets and period metal helmets are on the floor. There are excellent props and effective makeup. The lighting and sound are appropriately atmospheric and there are even smoke effects sparingly, but aptly used. The venue is also very well matched to the show with an underground vibe that hints at claustrophobia.
This is a play about not communicating due language barriers and therefore we do not understand much of what the characters are saying, even with translation supertitles flashing by almost faster than can be read, but not nearly as fast as the actors are speaking. Never the less, the piece is very dramatic and well performed. You can tell what is going on, and enjoy the intense drama, even without catching the words.