Stephen MacDonald’s Not About Heroes reviewed by Jenny Davis, actress, director and playwright.
Despite the chilly evening in St George’s Cathedral, the attentive opening night audience sat engrossed in the moving and thoughtful performance of Stephen MacDonald’s dramatisation of the friendship between the WWI poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, in this centenary year of the onset of the Great War.
The title is a quote from Owen’s own forward to his first published volume of poems. It may not be a play about heroes as applied in the usual sense when speaking of serving soldiers; however the two young men are brave enough to set out to tell the world the truth about “the pity” of war at a time when patriotism, glory and jingoism were the only accounts the public were intended to hear. Their poetry captures and distils for us the horrors of their firsthand experience of the trenches. Poetry would never be the same again.
Anthony Howes, director of the Drama Unit at the Cathedral, brought us a well paced production, the faster, lively dialogues of some scenes contrasting with the slower, more profound moments. Sam Devenport, as the urbane and world weary Sassoon, is a young man who has already seen too much. He cannot reach out and connect easily with others and often uses humour to disguise his pain and ennui, but the moving solo speeches gave the performance great depth. Mark Desebrock as Owen brings a youthful élan and a wide eyed approach that contrasts beautifully with the cynicism of the older Sassoon. We see Owen growing in stature as a poet and always generous in spirit; he approaches life with an artist’s soul, determined to experience every moment in order to achieve his best work. The two young actors handle the poetry beautifully and the friendship between the two young men is totally convincing.
As an audience we come away happy that the two poets, from quite different backgrounds, found each other and gave each other solace and inspiration at such a dreadful period in their lives and in history.