Tag Archives: Les Enfants Terribles

The Trench – 3 Stars


The Trench

Southwark Playhouse

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


The Trench

Southwark Playhouse until 17th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Bananaman | ★★★ | January 2018
Pippin | ★★★★ | February 2018
Old Fools | ★★★★★ | March 2018
The Country Wife | ★★★ | April 2018
Confidence | ★★ | May 2018
The Rink | ★★★★ | May 2018
Why is the Sky Blue? | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Wasted | ★★★ | September 2018
The Sweet Science of Brusing | ★★★★ | October 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com



Review of Inside Pussy Riot – 5 Stars


Inside Pussy Riot

Saatchi Gallery

Reviewed – 16th November 2017


“we don balaclavas, unite in our beliefs, and are told to follow the actors and participate in a protest”


Before this immersive piece even starts the audience are required to fill in their details on a questionnaire including our social media addresses and signing a declaration that pictures will be taken of us. This same questionnaire assigns us emotive placards for us to use during the piece. We are given a numbered stamp as we walk in; this number became a constant throughout and proved to be our only identity. As we later read prisoner accounts of Russian labour camps, our lives felt a little more precious and our number a little more disturbing.

The audience are immediately thrown in to the mix of the Pussy Riot machine, we don balaclavas, unite in our beliefs, and are told to follow the actors and participate in a protest. The several doors, small spaces, loud noises and dank feel echoed that of prisons and felt claustrophobic and limited.

The acting was strong from the Judge who embodied a puppet controlled by oppression and ‘the system’ so well that it was mesmerising to watch. Near the beginning an audience member was commanded to take off her clothes. It was such a believable performance that we all watched in horror as she stripped down to her underwear, before she announced that she was also a performer (Alice Ivor) and that she had a choice to take off her clothes or not, before stating that if this was a real situation she would likely be beaten and raped.

In general the writing (Oliver Lansley) was strong but I felt it lost it’s impact with too many facts in places. It was the immersive experience that had the lasting impression on audience members. The Saatchi Gallery was well used; we could hear noises from other scenes but this was expected in a small and non sound-proof gallery and it did not affect the scene you were in. Stage management are to be praised for fluidity of scene transitions especially as there were a number of audience parties moving through the performance at any one time.

Towards the end the actors break the fourth wall and point out that this is not a prison, this is a performance, and we have willingly complied with what the actors have said for the past hour. This throwing our willingness to abide by the ‘rules’ and our taste of UK freedom in to perspective.

Nervous laughter broke out frequently from myself and amongst the group as participants were shouted at and ordered around by actors. Luckily we were in safe hands, but knowing that this happens in Russia and around the world was a sobering thought. A great show where I found myself constantly questioning what was going to happen next and this immersive production blew my expectation entirely.


Reviewed by Lucy Marsh

Photography by Kenny Mathieson

Design by Zoe Koperski




is at The Saatchi Gallery until 24th December




Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com