BWW Review: THE WIPERS TIMES, Arts Theatre

BWW Review: THE WIPERS TIMES, Arts Theatre

BWW Review: THE WIPERS TIMES, Arts TheatreUntil recently, the tale of a band of soldiers from the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters, who sought to entertain their trenched comrades with a witty paper, was confined to the knowledge of a few readers of history.

Returning to the Arts Theatre in London's West End after a UK tour, The Wipers Times proves that the history of the Great War can be engaging and at times entertaining.

Performed in the centenary year of the armistice of the First World War, the production is a lighter way to digest and reflect on the conflict's atrocities. Led by the quintessential British joker in the pack, Captain Roberts' (James Dutton) idea for a bit of lighthearted satire to take his officers' minds away from the horrors in front of them quickly grows - but under the watchful eye of the unamused lickspittle Lt. Col. Howfield (Sam Ducane).

The bleakness of battle can, at times, overcome the satire to make for a rather dismal atmosphere. Whilst the stiff upper lip of protagonist Captain Roberts does carry the plot, his unbridled optimism cannot carry against an unrelentingly gloomy backdrop.

Against the relentless bombshell blasts, the whole pretence does wear a little thin in Act I. Luckily, moments of genuine comic relief are delivered upstage and their light - both physically and metaphorically - injects the play with some much-needed life.

Act II is an altogether more enjoyable affair, with some poignant moments that do differ the pace from the rather melancholic optimism of the band of brothers in the preceding act.

The cast play multiple characters with ease, and each performance complements the next well - there are no real battles of egos amongst the company, which is refreshing, especially on a West End stage.

Though the piece is very much of a period, the continued dialogue between men of a similar age does begin to get a little monotonous. The second act, however, improves with greater input from the two women in the company.

The text is the most precious thing about this production, clearly littered with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop's quick wit and sharp observations. The audience feel genuinely at ease to enjoy their evening as the tricky bit - condensing the Great War - has been done with great skill.

Whilst an enjoyable evening with some beautifully poignant moments, The Wipers Times never really gets too far off the ground. Though not exactly groundbreaking, it does provide a novel way of framing the Armistice centenary with a truly remarkable story.

The Wipers Times at Arts Theatre until 1 December

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From This Author Fraser MacDonald

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