Reviewed – 16th October 2018
“a slick, impressive show, so long as you don’t dig too deep”
As the only tunneller awarded a Victoria Cross in the First World War, William Hackett provides inspiration, storyline and main character (renamed Bert) for this play by Oliver Lansley. Despite his heart condition, Hackett enlisted in late 1915. A few months later he was denied leave to visit his 14-year-old son, who had lost a leg in a mining accident. Then, on 22nd June 1916, he was trapped underground with four comrades by a German mine blast. Over several days he helped rescue three but died going back for the last.
In this already cheerless saga, the amputation is replaced by news from home of a baby lost in childbirth, heightening perhaps Bert’s motivation to save his much younger colleague. To ramp up the melodrama further, the journey unfolds via a solid hour of iambic pentameter, spoken mostly by Bert (Lansley himself) as he scrapes and writhes through a claustrophobic set, aided by the multiple stage skills of Edward Cartwright, James Hastings and Kadell Herida, who play his comrades. The entombed ensemble is accompanied by the brooding presence stage left of the show’s composer Alexander Wolfe riffing dolefully on guitars, with sad melodies on sundry instruments occasionally aided by the multi-talented Hastings.
If this sounds unremittingly gloomy, it is. On the upside, The Trench is the work of Les Enfant Terribles, a theatre company with its own brand of showmanship and production design. Samuel Wyer provides an explosion of visual ideas and techniques, which provide the energy needed for an otherwise plodding tale. Shadow puppetry is used especially well to depict sepulchral columns of doomed troops; high tension wires and projections combine to create a cinematic overhead camera effect as Bert stumbles through the mire of the battlefield. The team also depicts the horrors that Bert encounters with a series of demonic puppets resembling the rotting carcasses of rats and horses, culminating in a red dragon, a reference to the Red Dragon crater by which the area is still known.
It’s hard to think what William Hackett would make of all this. Most likely he would enjoy the technical flair along with everyone else and may have recognised, too, the Music Hall style rhyming monologue, sustained from ‘A species on extinction’s brink’ all the way through to ‘The flickering flame of fate has faded’. Hackett might even have recognised Oliver Lansley’s actor-manager function but if so, probably wouldn’t have recognised himself. Hackett’s photos online suggest a less commanding figure than the one portrayed and a more vulnerable performance would have raised the emotional engagement hugely.
The glorification of WW1’s futile sacrifices can become a divisive subject especially at this time of year, but there’s no escaping that this is a slick, impressive show, so long as you don’t dig too deep.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Rah Petherbridge
Southwark Playhouse until 17th November
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Les Enfants Terribles and ebp in association with Creature of London are delighted to announce the cast of “ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND” which returns to The Vaults at Waterloo from 15 April 2017.
The cast of “ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND” will be comprised of Richard Booth (BFG, Goosebumps Live), Farrell Cox (The Lost Carnival, Penguin! Elephant,), Dominic Creasey (Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2), Matthew Crouzieres (The Game’s Afoot, Back To The Future with Secret Cinema, Alice’s Adventures Underground), Jack Dorning (Hansel and Gretel, Mermaid) Emily Essery (OSLO, GO SOLO), David Frias-Robles (Cornwall vs China, The Beast), Alex Gilbert (The Fitzrovia Radio Hour’s Christmas Special, Daisy Pulls It Off), Mathew Hamper (Once, The Scarecrow’s Wedding), Nicholas Hart (Hand To God, War Horse, Alice’s Adventures Underground), Philippa Hogg (The Vaudevillians, The Forever Machine), Richard Holt (Partners in Crime, The Pillowman), Lydia Hourihan (The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie), Sam Hoye (Monstersaurus!, The Night Before Christmas), Michael Humphreys (The Good Earth, Little Shop of Horrors), Kojo Kamara (King Lear).
Max Krupski (The Emperor Jones, Blast Off!), Robert Lightfoot (Don’t Touch Me, Before The Fall, Alice’s Adventures Underground), Emma Maclennan (Room on the Broom, The BFG), Elizabeth Mary-Williams (The Thinning Veil, The Selfish Giant), Jonathan Mathews (The D List, Bridget Jones’ Baby, The Frontier Trilogy), Miranda Menzies (Wallace, Romeo and Juliet), Michele Moran (Beyond The Fence, A Little Night Music), Alice Morgan Richards (China Doll: A Neuropera in Four Seasons), Olivia Nakintu (Antigone, Romeo and Juliet), Rhys Owen (Dick!, Our House), Will Palmer (Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough, Wesley), Alan Pearson (One Man, Two Guvnors, My Girl), Zara Plessard (How Not To Sink, Half A Sixpence national tour), Marah Stafford (Back To The Future with Secret Cinema, Joyce: The Golden Needle, Alice’s Adventures Underground), Tom Syms (Back To The Future and Dr Strangelove with Secret Cinema and The Game’s Afoot, Alice’s Adventures Underground), Kyle Taylor (The Smurfs Live Tour, In The Night Garden live), Deborah Tracey (Fee Fi Fo Fum [BBC], A Mad World My Masters), Meghan Treadway (War Horse, The 24 Hour Plays: Old Vic New Voices), Maxwell Tyler (The Bear, From Dusk Till Dawn), Marta Vella (The Bacchae, Calendar Girls), and Hemi Yeroham (Romeo and Juliet, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).
Also returning as The Mock Turtle, composer of the original song ‘The Mock Turtle’s Lament’, Alexander Wolfe.
This unmissable immersive production was the hit of summer 2015, welcoming over 100,000 visitors and culminating in a 2016 Olivier Award nomination for Best Entertainment and Family Show. “ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND” was originally conceived as a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel of the same name – it will play a limited season from 15 April 2017 – 23 September 2017, with press night on 25 April 2017. Ticket prices range from £39.00 to £71.50 (£31.50 – £54.00 during previews); and there are a limited number of tickets for £25 for under 26’s at the first performance on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the run.
Also returning is the bespoke children’s show, “ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND” for those aged 5 to 10 from 13 May 2017 – 3 September 2017. Casting for this will be announced at a later date.
Audiences experience immersive theatre in spectacular detail in this interactive, puppetry-packed, fusion of storytelling, music and circus deep below Waterloo station. Audience members are invited down the rabbit hole in intimate groups, where they will be presented with a choice of EAT ME or DRINK ME, which will affect the way their show will unfold… Make your choice and find yourself at the centre of the story as you wander through Wonderland, piecing together the puzzle to search for Alice who is lost in the looking glass.
“ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND” is written by Oliver Lansley and Anthony Spargo and directed by Oliver Lansley and James Seager.
Full details at:
Photography by Jason Joyce