Not About Heroes is a tribute. Not just to Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon but to every soldier who fought in the First World War. Like the Tower of London poppies, it represents each and every soldier. But not only the ones who died, those who lived with the horrific memories of what they had seen as well. Tying in with the 100 year anniversary of the First World War, Trafalgar Studios is the last stop for the play, ending its successful UK tour.
Whilst the story is centred around the two poets, it is so much more than just a memoir of their work. Not About Heroes follows the story of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon from their first meeting at Craiglockhart Hospital in 1917, to their last meeting just a year later not long before the untimely death of Owen in November 1918. They journey emotionally together, writing poetry and developing their close relationship, wondering if they will ever return to France. You get a real insight both into their personal lives and the grit of intense warfare. The story is told through a number of letters. From Owen to his mother (but not all 600 odd that he wrote). And letters between Owen and Sassoon, as well as an interpretation on their real life meetings. It’s a beautiful script mixed with real poetry and historical accuracy.
Simon Jenkins and Alasdair Craig grow into their roles throughout the first act as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, owing to the way their character’s relationship develops. It’s not a very convincing start but it improves as the pace of the play increases. A two man play is hard to pull off but they cope. It lacks slightly the raw emotion you crave from such a sombre topic. At times, Simon Jenkins’ performance is noticeably stronger than his fellow actor, which is a shame as it impacts on the chemistry between the pair. He has Wilfred Owen down to a t though, with the stutter and shakes from shellshock which gradually fade during his time at the hospital. And when Owen visits Sassoon after he has been shot, you can sense the growth between the two. The way that they truly now care for each other as great friends. If you know your history, you know this will be their last meeting. Despite this, you long for Owen not to return to France where he will meet his fate.
What makes the play so unique, is its intimacy. The intimate relationship between the characters. And the intimacy of such a small theatre. It’s inclusive without being uncomfortable. And that’s why it works. The sandbags leading up to the door and the hanging helmets from the ceiling add to the authenticity of the whole piece.
The play is a touching tribute to the soldiers of the First World War. It claims that it is ‘not about heroes’ but it represents the heroic act of thousands of soldiers. While it may only be about two men, it tells the story of many.
Reviewed by Keziah Leary
Not About Heroes is playing at the Trafalgar Studios until 6 December 2014. Click here for more information and to book tickets.