The friendship of two war poets portrayed on stage

Published: Wednesday 18th October 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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Flying Bridge Theatre’s acclaimed Not About Heroes comes to Hull Truck Theatre from tonight.

Exploring the distinctive friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, two First World War poets, the show is a compelling tale about battle, the trenches and the power of the written word.

It is set in 1917, when both poets were patients at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh. Owen was struggling with shell-shock, which we would now regard as PTSD. Sassoon, who was also in the psychiatric ward, was considered by the public to be a dissenter. Despite being a decorated war hero, he had soon become disillusioned by the slaughter of the hundreds of thousands of young men.

Sassoon survived the war, but Owen was unfortunately not so lucky – he was killed in northern France just one week before the Armistice in November 1918.

This thought-provoking drama describes the close relationship between Owen and Sassoon, their mutual hatred of war, and how Siegfried had a heavy creative influence over Wilfred. Directed by Flying Bridge Theatre’s Joint Artistic Director, Tim Baker, Not About Heroes was staged to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and their first meeting in Scotland.

The play has received a lot of attention so far. In 2015, it won an Edinburgh Fringe First. The same year, Joint Director Daniel Llewelyn Williams, who portrays Sassoon, won  Best Actor during the Wales Theatre Awards.

Flying Bridge Theatre is a Welsh theatre company based in Newport. It strives to create art that “means something” and produce theatre with a social conscience that also entertains. The group has an extensive education programme, set up to inspire and inform audiences of all ages. They frequently work with schools, colleges, care homes and community centres to ensure that everyone has access to the live arts.

Owen was born in Shropshire in the late 1800s. His passion for poetry became apparent in his youth, but the war and his companionship with Sassoon shaped his work profoundly. Nowadays, he is regarded as the greatest poet of World War One. In poems such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Futility”, “The Parable of the Old Men and the Young” and “Strange Meeting”, he depicts the horrors of the trenches and gas warfare. His honesty and sobering words were a far stretch from the usual patriotic verses from the likes of Rupert Brooke.

Siegfried actually satirised such poets and held these nationalist representations of battle responsible for the war itself. After being decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he was admitted to Craiglockhart as a psychiatric patient after a lone protest in his statement “Soldier’s Declaration”. In spite of him being considered a dissenter at the time, his work later received a lot of praise and he is now one of the most renowned poets of the Great War.

Not About Heroes is at Hull Truck Theatre until Saturday 21 October. You can find out more and purchase tickets by calling 01482 323638, or you can book online.

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Published: Wednesday 18th October 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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