JOYCE MCMILLAN on NOT ABOUT HEROES at Craiglockhart War Hospital, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 13.9.14.
4 stars ****
AS I WALKED through Craiglockhart House – now part of Napier University – on my way to Monday’s opening performance of Not About Heroes, I glanced through a door, and saw a young man in First World War uniform leaning over a table. It was only one of the actors from this new touring production of Stephen MacDonald’s beautiful 1982 play, re-staged to mark the centenary of 1914. Yet it was also like briefly seeing a ghost, in that place where officers suffering from “shell shock” were sent during 1914-18, and where the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen met and formed a passionate friendship, before Owen was sent back to the front where he died.
In some ways, MacDonald’s play now seems a slightly old-fashioned piece, not least in the kind of relationship it portrays – full of tempestuous heightened emotion, but forbidden any physical expression beyond the odd manly pat on the shoulder. There’s no denying the power and beauty of the writing, though, as Sassoon – in Craiglockhart only to silence his fierce opposition to the war – helps the young Owen to find his voice, and the greatest happiness of his short life. This Feelgood Theatre production is well served by heartfelt performances from Simon Jenkins and Alasdair Craig, and by some beautiful accompanying music; and as this production continues its tour round places of significance in Owen’s life – including the town in France where he spent his last night – it should act as a powerful reminder of the carnage of war, and of the generation of doomed youth who, in dying, touched so many poets’ lips to song.