London, United Kingdom
Cast : James Howard and Ben Ashton
Produced by Adrian McDougall
Directed by Eliot Giuralarocca
Set Design - Victoria Spearing
Composer - Tom Neill
Lighting Design Charlotte McClelland
Costume Design - Jenny Little
Projection Design - Clive Elkington
CSM's - Claire Childs and Ali Graham
Director's Programme note
Immediately after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the writer and social commentator H.G.Wells published a book entitled 'The War That Will End War', in which he wrote “This is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!” By the time the Armistice was signed at 11am on the 11th November 2018, it is estimated that 16 million people had been killed and 20 million wounded making it amongst the deadliest conflicts in human history.
This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of that terrible conflict and with the war in Afghanistan and the memory of over a million people marching through London to protest against the war in Iraq still reverberating in public consciousness, Not About Heroes, feels very fresh and relevant. Much of the play is sourced directly from the poetry of Owen and Sassoon along with the letters they wrote. They hoped that their poetry would shine a light on the true cost and horror of war and shared a passionate conviction that it was their duty and responsibility to speak out, "We are the only ones who can help (people) to imagine", Sassoon tells Owen in the play, "If they know the truth, the killing will have to stop.".
I was keen to see if we could find a visual parallel to this powerful 'anti-war' sentiment in the play and I was drawn to the Dadaist art movement of the period which, like the poems of Sassoon and Owen, came out of a negative reaction to the horrors of of a war, which the Dadaists saw, in the words of Art critic Fred Kleiner as 'an insane spectacle of collective homicide.' George Grosz, a prominent Dadaist called his art a protest 'against this world of mutual destruction', an explosion of anger and defiance against authority. Visually, this seemed a really exciting fit with the subject matter of the play so I asked my designer Victoria Spearing to try to think of the design as a Dadaist inspired piece of art, a memorial to the war, an environment that sculptures the space in which the story unfolds. I hope this will stimulate the imagination and act as a visual equivalent of a poem, at once concrete and specific yet still allowing you - the audience - to create your own interpretations.
The play opens with Sassoon in 1932 remembering and reliving events with Owen in 1917 and 1918. It is a moving mediation on their friendship and inter-twinned journey towards self discovery. Part of the play's power for me is contained in the sensual, visceral nature of their poetry and the fluidity of a narrative that jumps back and forward in time, just as memories do. I have tried to emphasise this and show that in essence we are watching the interior of Sassoon's mind; he is remembering these events, looking back on them, recalling and reliving his relationship with Owen which I hope will allow for moments of heightened, dream-like sensuality. Sassoon is at once a character and a storyteller while Owen is alive in his memories and at the same time a ghost at the feast. Theirs was a friendship forged 100 years ago, in the unique circumstances of the First World War and left us poetry that still burns brightly today and I really hope that we can do justice both to their work and to this wonderful play.
Creating a piece of theatre never happens in isolation and I have had the great good fortune to work with some wonderfully patient and creative collaborators. My thanks to Victoria Spearing, Clive Elkington and Jenny Little for their respective set, video and costume designs, Tom Neil for his haunting sound and music, Chantal Addley for sourcing and producing the props with such care and Charlotte McClelland for lighting everything so beautifully. And of course, huge thanks to Blackeyed Theatre for giving me the opportunity to work with two wonderfully talented performers - James Howard and Ben Wesley Ashton who have made creating this show such a pleasure and who have thrown themselves into the project with such commitment, passion and generosity of spirit.
Resourceful, progressive....ever willing to try a different angle...The whole interpretation is directed with passionate sensitivity by Eliot Giuralarocca...a dynamic and challenging production that surpasses the conventional and excels at originality.
The Stage ★★★★
This excellent production from Blackeyed Theatre, directed by Eliot Giuralarocca, evokes beautifully the curious mixture of despair, fear, weariness and the thrill of what can still be achieved.
Remote Goat ★★★★★
A master class in direction from Eliot Giuralarocca has turned what could have been a very wordy and worthy play into a wonderfully emotional theatrical experience, captivating the audience from start to finish... I would urge anyone to go and see this.
Do More magazine ★★★★★
I was absorbed into this beautifully written, produced, directed and acted production. Windsor Express
An incredibly enjoyable piece of theatre.
Berkshire News ★★★★
Moving and memorable..the final moments of the play, with Owen's dead self leaning lovingly on the grief-stricken Sassoon's shoulder, left an indelible memory of an evening which will not easily be forgotten.
Eliot Giuralarocca's production stays in your mind long after the performance is over.
An intense, stark and introspective theatrical experience of great poignancy.
Oxford Daily info
Video Curtesy of Blackeyed Theatre
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