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Not About Heroes review at Barons Court Theatre London

Stephen MacDonald’s two-hander, premiered in Edinburgh in 1982, deals with the relationship which First World War poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen struck up when they met, during the war, at Craiglockhart War Hospital.

Sassoon had been banished there after voicing his opposition to the war effort, while Owen had been hospitalised for shell shock. Just as the two war poets had powerful material from which to draw their art, so has MacDonald, discovering in their lives and friendship a rich source out of which to fashion his play.

Dov Citron’s portrayal of Sassoon is impressive, neatly conveying the writer’s upper-class reserve, while occasionally hinting at the cracks underneath. Martin Scully’s Owen is a slightly more peculiar construction, with his girlish crush on the more established poet introducing a surprisingly strong homoerotic undercurrent which is never fully justified or explained by the text.

Despite this, their on-stage relationship is effective but is, unfortunately, undermined by the play’s repeated use of the pair’s poetry, which inevitably draws any pace out of the proceedings. One scene in particular – Owen’s composition of Anthem for Doomed Youth – is particularly awkward, as he partakes in a ‘poetry by numbers’ workshop with Sassoon, which is reminiscent of many a secondary school English lesson.

This is a play about extraordinary times, which, for the most part, makes compelling viewing and is confidently and ably performed by two talented young actors, let down by an inability to keep up a narrative pace and undermined in its quieter moments by its staging below a rather noisy pub.

Production Information

Barons Court Theatre, London, February 8-March 6

Stephen MacDonald
Ian Flintoff
Madhouse Plays
Dov Citron and Martin Scully
Running Time
1hr 30mins

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Alistair Smith
Alistair Smith is editor of The Stage. Having joined the publication on staff in 2004, he has also held the roles of reporter, news editor, opinion editor, deputy editor and print editor at The Stage and has written for publications ranging from The Guardian to Hello! Magazine. He is also the author of two major industry reports (the London Theatre Report and the Theatre Workforce Review) and a founder of the My Theatre Matters! campaign.