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Luke Leeves (Wilfred Owen) and Stuart Draper (Siegfried Sassoon) in Melmoth's production of Not About Heroes

Not About Heroes
by Stephen MacDonald

"An unmissable, unmistakably memorable experience." ExtraExtra

When Wilfred Owen was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital for Nervous Disorders in June, 1917, he was suffering from shell-shock after four months in the trenches in France. He aspired to be a poet, but had achieved nothing of note.

Following his meeting with the celebrated poet Siegfried Sassoon, Owen developed a friendship with his mentor that set him out on his journey to become the greatest of the War Poets. Anton Krause's simple and elegant production celebrates one of the greatest friendships of the Twentieth Century.

Cast: STUART DRAPER and LUKE LEEVES Directed by: ANTON KRAUSE; Produced by: STUART DRAPER; Costume design: VAL WILLIAMS; Set design: MARK BULLOCK; Sound and Lighting design: BONAMEDIA



Noted poet Siegfried Sassoon's gallantry in battle during World War I was matched only by his unflinching bravery in writing a statement defying the morality of war, which he defiantly sent to his commanding officers. In the ensuing aftermath, his friend Robert Graves convinced him to spend time in Craiglockhart Hospital for soldiers in Scotland, in order to spare him court martial, and shaming, inevitable scandal. But Sassoon's case would have doubtless, been a difficult one to judge, in that he had already won the Military Cross for performing daring combative feats following the death of his brother, at Gallipolis, and, that of his youthful, fellow officer in No Man's Land.

It was in Craiglockhart Hospital, that Sassoon met young, traumatised Wilfred Owen, just as the days were approaching when the reality that untold numbers of soldiers had suffered from shellshock during the great conflict became an accepted fact of life. Though Owen had entertained thoughts of becoming a poet prior to his hospital stay, it was there, with the encouragement of his new friend and mentor, Sassoon, that his poetry began to take shape and he gained the confidence needed to write the lines that would one day make him immortal.

Actors Stuart Draper and Luke Leeves portray Sassoon and Owen respectively with a heartfelt candour and earnestness that was missing from the rather formally acted production of the play staged last year in the small theatre in Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms.

Here, in Melmoth's production, the subtle layers of the performances of both actors allowed the audience to witness the poets' developing friendship, as well as the transformation of the character of each man as the play progressed. By interval time, the rest of the audience seemed to be as engrossed in this production as I was, and, just as eager for the second act to begin. For, in this knowing production of Not About Heroes , the two poets come across as real men, with hearts and souls, and above all, the will to live to fight another day, though both harbour a fervent hope that there will soon be no more battles to fight.

During the course of the performance, action switches between scenes in which older, more experienced poet Sassoon generously guides Owen, and scenes in which each man acts alone. Alone, Sassoon, in his own home, circa 1932, reminiscences about those earlier, bittersweet days, while Owen, as his friend recollects, often wrote letters home, to his mother in which he waxed lyrical about his mentor. Sassoon's main concern at the time was always his men, the soldiers he'd left behind on the battlefield, and the guilt he suffered being away from his troops, in the relative comfort of the hospital.

Owen, on the other hand, felt that, by succumbing to the trauma caused by witnessing the deaths of some of his closest comrades, the only way to shake off the stigma of cowardice was to return to battle. And, in his estimation, being a soldier facing combat was, after all, a responsibility that each man should take on, whatever the cost. His poetry thus far had centred on the casualties and darkly indiscriminating aspects and after-effects, of warfare, both inner and outer. Once Owen embraced that notion, he felt compelled to return to the battlefield as soon as he was deemed fit. Of course, the definition of fit for soldiers returning to battle then would have simply meant that their nightmares had ceased sufficiently enough to allow them to get on with the mechanics of life, and death, at the front.

For the young poet, the inevitable cost of his last literal foray into the combative fields of his creativity was to be the ultimate sacrifice - his parents received the news of his untimely death as the bells pealed out on Armistice Day, seven days later.

Stephen McDonald's fine play Not About Heroes has received a timely, well-acted revision in the snug little theatre atop the Hobgoblin Pub. The intimate space is just right for the humanistic nature of this production. For what these two remarkable poets, and men, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen gave to the world, as a direct result of their deeply impacting friendship, forms the nucleus of this engrossing play.

What playwright Stephen MacDonald has given us with Not About Heroes (which won the Edinburgh Prize in 1982) is an engaging, enduring piece of theatre which, when as well-presented as it is here, will enthral scholars of World War I poetry, as well as inspire interest in those who've never before savoured the moving lines of poetry by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, or any of the other embattled poets of that turbulent era.

Thoughtful directing from Anton Krause allowed for different scenes to be enacted in various areas of the small space, with the actors utilising the few props and furnishings to maximum effect. And well-honed, touching performances from Stuart Draper, as a reflective Sassoon, and Luke Leeves as eternally youthful Owen made this production of Not About Heroes an unmissable, unmistakably memorable experience. EXTRA EXTRA


What the critics said about Two Gentlemen of Verona:

"Pretty irresistible"
Time Out

"A Shakespearean delicacy"
Kentish Times

"the utterly fabulous, utterly hysterical, totally feelgood production of Two Gentlemen of Verona"

"A delightfully
queer finale"
Time Out, London