The centenary of the end of the First World War offers the ideal opportunity to look at this period of history from unusual angles and stylistic approaches.
American playwright Irwin Shaw was a child during the First World War and wrote the expressionistic Bury the Dead in 1936 at the age of 23, when another major conflict was on the horizon.
Set around a soil-filled, impersonal communal grave (a visceral, claustrophobic design by Verity Johnson), six dead soldiers refuse to be buried and accept that the exchange “a life for four yards of bloody mud” was justified, choosing an in-between state. This strange turn of events is initially twisted for propaganda purposes before spiralling into a PR crisis.
In Rafaella Marcus’ production, the supernatural elements are treated in a matter-of-fact manner as an extension of sorts to the lives that the undervalued foot soldiers would have liked to have lived, when no longer required to bow to authority.
This isn’t a character piece and the lack of individuality has a distancing effect until the six two-handers, in which the women in the dead soldiers’ lives are recruited to make them see sense and appeal for a nice grave in a daisy-filled field.
Among the attempts to reason with these unquiet sleepers, the most powerful is the mechanic’s wife (a thorny performance by Sioned Jones), bitterly recalling their measly existence on $18.50 a week before galvanising him to make a stand in death that would have been impossible in life.