Edinburgh Fringe 2016
“In the centenary year of the Battle of the Somme, Incognito theatre revives Erich Maria Remarque’s classic tale that exposes the mental and physical strain of trench warfare, All Quiet on the Western Front. Adapting the story in their trademark physical style, Incognito harnesses the tragic energy of Remarque’s novel and creates a stunningly poetic, poignant and expressionistic theatrical experience in order to tell the breaking story of the German soldiers who fought on the Western Front during the Great War.”
Eric Maria Remarque’s classic vision of the First World War from the German viewpoint receives a first rate production and performance from the Pleasance’s much to be commended XYP Project. This adaptation in the small space of Pleasance Beneath, brought the trans-continental picture of the War that was called Great into our very laps: crystal clear, spare and ingenious. The young cast – and after all the youthfulness of those slaughtered by hubris when over 19,000 died in the first couple of days of the Battle of the Somme alone, is a statement about WW1 in itself – delivered the feelings from the German point of view without frills. Interesting that that war, which ended all but 100 years ago, reaches out with force to the hearts and captures the imagination of even the very young today: when will the Politicians learn?
This production is telling and relevant and the physicality to the point. The very mobile cast were up to the challenge of Zac Nemorin and the directorial concept of Roberta Zuric which put the words first, and forced a talented team to rely on their interpretation and their own mimetic to tell the terrible story. The proof of the respectful approach to the devised text was in the experiencing, and in a way which gripped attention from the outset and stirred the emotions of the packed audience. Although several of the cast were called upon to play more than one character, even those who were not, if the play is performed elsewhere, might consider further development in characterisation, rather than simply rely on the natural differences of actor personality – which is of course every actor’s unique quality. Notwithstanding this extra dimension which would have added extra texture to the whole, it must be said the production was totally satisfying as presented.
The First World War stirs the emotions and imagination as no other: we still boil inside with anger at the stupidity, the pointlessness, the cruelty and the waste: and we cry at the personal grief and remaining residual effects shared across our Continent. That football match on Christmas Day was an unspoken message to all warmongers. Tragically it is a message which will go unheeded: there is no ‘war to end all wars’: at least not until human nature changes…the loss of life, the devastation of forest and homestead; the social and economic consequences; and the pointlessness of it all…there must be scarcely a family across Europe – and in places far beyond – which is not still affected negatively and at first hand.
The memory of grief and the results of destruction should not just be remembered in these 4 Centenary years of 2014 to 2018. The unglamorous reality of War must be remembered annually. The lesson is perennial and these war remembrances should be an annual ‘must see’, : just as the Christmas Carol of Charles Dickens jogs our conscience every Christmas that ‘the poor are ever with us.’ and is a ‘must read’. ‘Lest we forget’ of course isn’t just a question of faulty memory, it’s a reminder of the dark side of human nature: there is financial and power advantage to be gained by the selfish. Is there such a thing as ‘the just war’ one may ask? The Second World War which can be seen as an attempt to reverse the Armistice of the First, was probably presented as one of ideology, confronting the evil of fascism: tragic, but ok?
It would be interesting to add a ‘second act’ to this production of All Quiet On The Western Front – another short play but written from the British point of view. The irony of the similarity of view of the opposing sides would not be missed.
In conclusion, enormous praise must be given to a delightful and talented cast, Angus Doughty,George John, Charlie MacVicar,Alex Maxwell and Dan Whitlam and the the creative team. Never forgetting the Pleasance itself, fount and inspiration of good ideas and some great productions.