Stephen MacDonald’s heart-wrenching play Not About Heroes requires respect, humility and above all, sensitivity. In no uncertain terms, director Olivia Bradley paid tribute not only to the harrowing play itself but to all soldiers who fall – and who are willing to fall – in the fight for their country and their freedom. Of course, the play itself never glamourizes war nor any form of jingoistic patriotism; rather, the play focuses on the plight of the individual who treads a wholly personal path through a mass slaughter.
Nicole Jashapara’s sparse set only served to prove that simplicity can be incredibly powerful as the audience’s attention was only ever fixed on the actors who interacted incredibly well with just a few, very well-considered props. Most effective of all was the scattering of the letters which permeated throughout the entire play and certainly made me feel as though both Wilfred Owen (Tom Ames) and Siegfried Sassoon (Cameron Spain) were shedding their façade, making themselves vulnerable and laying their tracks for the world to see.
Ames’ quiet, unassuming and uptight Wilfred Owen was the perfect counterbalance to Spain’s much more jovial, sharp, self-assured and witty Siegfried Sassoon and it was clear that the two actors were working in unison as a well-oiled machine. Indeed, both actors responded to each other thoughtfully, carefully and attentively. It must, however, be acknowledged Ames’s portrayal of Wilfred Owen was outstanding and deeply moving; from his very first entrance, he commanded the stage in the most measured, quiet and humble way. For me, the stand-out moment was his delivery of Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and I very much doubt that any audience member could have remained unmoved during this stunning portrayal of grief, horror and shame.
One of the greatest difficulties Bradley must have faced as Director, was how to make best use of the BT Studio’s enclosed and intimate space without the performance of her leads becoming static. While I did, at times, find that repetitive movements and blocking slowed the pace of the play during its first half, Bradley made much better use of the ¾ in-the-round space in the second half. For instance, the blocking of Owen’s stroll with the wheelchair-bound Sassoon engaged the audience and drew them closer in to the action, more as voyeurs unintentionally overhearing their discussion than audience members.
Chapman’s innovative use of lighting must also be commended along with White’s incorporation of gunfire and the dropping of shells on the frontlines. Once again, a heavy-handed touch would have overwhelmed the subtlety of the play, but both designers were evidently careful to use their crafts to enhance the play and bring out its delicate emotions in the most sensitive and affecting way possible.
To conclude, this is a poignant play deserving of praise. It is rare to find a student production of such maturity – a maturity which I found particularly impressive and refreshing.