The Wipers Times is a surprising gentle visit to the trenches of World War I (3 stars)

The Wipers Times is a surprising gentle visit to the trenches of World War I

credit: Kirsten McTernan

Nick Newman and Ian Hislop's play celebrates the honest soldier in a mix of music hall and serious drama

Given Nick Newman and Ian Hislop's reputations as political satirists, The Wipers Times is a surprising gentle visit to the trenches of World War I. Recounting the true story of a comic newspaper published by the soldiers, for the soldiers – and cocking a snook at the top brass – the production is an uneasy mixture of music hall and serious drama, throwing in scenes of the home-front and the inevitable poignant moment before the troops are sent off into no-man's land.

Aside from a few snarky references to The Daily Mail and the sudden arrival of a bullying temperance campaigner, the action rarely acknowledges the world beyond the trenches, relying on episodic scenes from the life of the newspaper. The humour draws heavily on the gallows humour of the soldiers, with articles turned into routines – occasionally an ambitious music hall scene – and the interplay between the editors revealing the harsh reality against their playful humour.

The structure allows for little tragedy, with the scenes more like sketches than building towards a climax. Even the death of a comrade is maudlin rather than moving, and the story, despite the presence of explosions, the horror of war and poisonous gas, lacks a necessary dramatic tension. The cast perform their roles solidly, but the tone is familiar, a celebration of the honest soldier against the out of touch leadership that rejects sensational violence or pathos.

Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Sat 11 Nov, then touring

The Wipers Times

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman's satirical play about WWI.

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