Forgotten Voices of the Great War, Pleasance Courtyard, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Nick Brooke Ltd and the Pleasance Theatre Trust
Malcolm McKay (director and adaptor), Max Arthur (writer), Nick Bicat (sound) Douglas Heap (design)
Phillip Fox, Geoff Lesley, Gerrard McArthur, Wendy Nottingham+guest artists
Running time

Five actors on bar stools and a projection screen are the sole propellants of the action in ‘Forgotten Voices of the Great War’ and both the cast and the images behind them do their best to bring that conflict to life. They do, however, have their work cut out.

More a reading of others recollections than an acted performance, despite some uneasy attempts at connection between the readers, ‘Forgotten Voices’ more often falls between the uncomfortable-looking stools on which the performers perch than achieves a cohesive whole.

It’s a huge pity, but despite their best efforts, ‘Forgotten Voices’ feels not so much an opportunity missed as one squandered.

The busy traffic of the Fringe almost unavoidably includes productions one senses would be happier elsewhere, and this is one of them. Part of the charm of the Fringe, certainly, is its infinite variety, but in a contest between the sweep of the First World War and the time constraints of theatre, something has to give, and here it’s the war that loses.

There’s trouble too in the title. What we hear are voices not so much forgotten as so common as to be cliché. Only the lone female voice, that of a munitions-working wife with an absent Volunteer husband brings a fresh perspective to what we already know.

The recollections of the private soldiers are no more or less surprising than those of others, and lack the sense of anger and frustration at war’s waste in the voice of ungrateful ‘National Treasure’ Harry Patch, anxious to remind us of that truth at the gate of the grave.

Like the alarmingly ‘posh’ officer, these are all very English voices, and although the cloven hoof of Scoto-centrism may seem to suddenly appear, it’s worth pointing out that Scotland’s fatalities, at over 324,000 were only exceeded, as a percentage of the male population, by those of Serbia, and the large numbers of former Irish and Ulster Volunteers killed may have had a considerable effect on events in Ireland from 1916 on.

One could go on, but this reviewer already has, and it would be tedious and not to the point to do so. However, the intrusion of the recollections of a U.S. veteran at a late stage seemed simply that, and the sole reference to the French being an insulting reference to French cuisine both suggested that the future of this production might lie with the ‘dinner theatre’ circuit of the United States rather than anywhere else.

For those with curiousity and a sense of humour, this link may help explain what might have happened had WW1 occurred in a rowdy hostelry…

Pleasance Grand, August 1-25, 13.30; £10-£14.50.