Stephen MacDonald’s two-hander ‘Not About Heroes’ chronicles the deepening friendship that developed between poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, from their first meeting in 1917 at the Craiglockhart War Hospital where both were being treated for ‘war neurosis’, to their final meeting in August 1918, shortly before Owen’s return to the trenches.
Seen through the eyes of the older Sassoon, remembering events from fourteen years previously, the play interweaves extracts from their real diaries, letters and poems and suggests that their intense friendship was key to unlocking Owen’s talent as a poet.
Playwright Stephen MacDonald said when he wrote the play that he aimed to understand how their relationship “could leave such an indelible mark on the literature of their war and so on our understanding of war itself.”
He also hoped that his play “might refresh the memory of who these men were and what it was they had to tell us.
“When Wilfred Owen was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital for Nervous Disorders in June, 1917, he was suffering from shell-shock. It seems that his commanding officer equated shell-shock with cowardice.”
At the time of his meeting with Sassoon, Owen was unknown, although he aspired to be a poet.
He was killed in November, 1918, just a week before the Armistice. He was promoted to Lieutenant the day after his death.
Owen is now widely recognised as the greatest of the British poets of the First World War. ‘Not About Heroes’ is concerned with his transformation.
One hundred years on from the beginning of the First World War, the play presents an exhilarating and uncompromising exploration of love, war and friendship. Eliot Giuralarocca directs James Howard, whose credits include the Donmar Warehouse and RSC, and Ben Ashton, who has also worked with the RSC, in a production that features music composed by Tom Neill, set design by Victoria Spearing, costume design by Jenny Little and lighting design by Charlotte McClelland.
Director Eliot said: “The friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon was forged 100 years ago, in the unique circumstances of the First World War and left us poetry that still burns brightly today. I hope my production of ‘Not About Heroes’ will give the audience a visceral and sensual theatrical experience that brings their moving story to life.
“The synergy between the two actors and the subtle and shifting dynamic between Owen and Sassoon really carries the emotional heart of the story and I’m thrilled that we have James Howard playing Sassoon and Ben Ashton playing Owen, actors of real depth and presence, really watchable performers who I believe will hold the attention of an audience from beginning to end.
“This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict, it was famously said, that would be ‘a war to end all wars’. A century later, with the conflict in Afghanistan and the memory of over a million people marching through London to protest the war in Iraq, Not About Heroes feels very fresh and relevant.”
○Not About Heroes is at the Maltings, Saturday, October 25 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £13/£11.50 concs, Circle £15, Box Seat £17, child £7, students £5 (and teacher goes free)