Bury the Dead
Reviewed – 1st November 2018
“Rafaella Marcus’ direction is precise and ambitious, creating distance and momentum with high energy movement and rapid scene changes”
It has been eighty years since ‘Bury The Dead’, the overnight hit that kick-started American writer Irwin Shaw’s startling career, was last performed in Britain and time has been kind to this remarkable and effective First World War play.
Two unnamed soldiers are burying their recent dead when the impossible happens: the dead soldiers stand up and refuse to be buried. The press get wind of it and the generals, fearing the effect on morale, send in the soldiers’ wives, mothers and sisters to talk them into dying peacefully and laying back down in the earth.
Shaw exploits this simple device to ask vital and ever-relevant questions about how war and those that die for their country are remembered. These dead soldiers fight against the notion that “war is only won when the dead are buried and forgotten”, forcing the world to confront not just the horrors of past wars, but the human sacrifice of present ones. Forgetting is not an option. Shaw avoids memorialising and glorifying, opting instead to show intimate scenes between dead soldier and loved one. The message is to remember but not romanticise. Private Dean’s mother runs screaming from the stage when she sees her sons shell-mutilated face. Confrontation might help ease her suffering. Either way, ‘Bury The Dead’ opens the debate on memorialisation and its responsibility to question as well as record.
Verity Johnson creates a foggy, evocative set using the audience to form the boundaries of a trench filled with dirt and bordered by black crates. Rafaella Marcus’ direction is precise and ambitious, creating distance and momentum with high energy movement and rapid scene changes, building expert montages that seem refreshing after long scenes of dialogue. Sioned Jones is compelling in every scene she is in and offers a beguiling performance that tackles multiple roles with ease and attentiveness. She’s matched by Luke Dale, Liam Harkins and Scott Westwood who seem so at ease in their characters and honest that their scenes together and in isolation are thrilling to watch.
Atmospheric and thought-provoking, this production tackles big themes in a tiny space. War is claustrophobic, trench warfare especially, and this feeling is evoked masterfully throughout, breaking only in the final moments when the dead win the day. Gone but not forgotten; remembered for who they were not what they fought for. War is anything but glorious in this vital, compelling, must-see production.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Scott Rylander
Bury the Dead
Finborough Theatre until 24th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: