Reviewed – 6th September 2018
“this play about war and the devastating impact of chemical warfare and weapons of mass destruction has never been more timely”
This year British theatre has been marking the centenary of the ending of World War One by staging a number of new and revisited productions that pay homage to those involved in the terrible events between 1914 and 1918. One such play, based on true events, is the final production in the Finborough Theatre’s THEGREATWAR100 series. Square Rounds written by Tony Harrison and last performed almost thirty years ago at the National Theatre, is an epic exploration of the devastating effects of technology in the build up to the Great War. The play runs concurrently with the celebration of the venue’s 150th birthday.
The all women play opens with a three screen projection, on an otherwise black and white set, stating ‘I will give my life for peace’ and oddly, against an overall theme of death and destruction, it is this positive statement that runs through the content of the evening.
We are initially taken back to England 1915. With many men away fighting at the Front, six women in a munitions factory decide to play some of the inventors of the then modern technology warfare. We are introduced to Sweeper Mawes and the Munitionettes who in turn represent six very influential people who had both a positive and negative influence during that era.
Amongst those whose story we learn more of is American inventor Hudson Maxim (Amy Marchant) who is concerned for his country and the frightening technological advances employed by America’s new European enemies. But he is also jealous of his brother Sir Hiram Maxim (Letty Thomas) who invented the horrifically destructive Maxim machine gun.
Fritz Haber (Philippa Quinn) was a German Jewish chemist whose invention is still the basis used for producing nitrogen fertilisers of which approximately half of the world’s food is produced using. Sadly he is also considered the ‘father of chemical warfare’ for his pioneering work producing poisonous gases during WW1. We see an interesting interaction between him and his chemist wife Clara Immerwahr (Gracy Goldman) unhappy with her husband’s venture into developing a deadly gas.
Designer Daisy Blower has created a basic, though effective set, that is complimented by thoughtful sound design (Dinah Mullen) and sympathetic lighting (Arnim Friess). Direction from Jimmy Walters keeps the action moving well though on some occasions the rhyming verse was a little too fast to take in the necessary information.
With a mix of tragedy and parody covering themes of race and ethics, this play about war and the devastating impact of chemical warfare and weapons of mass destruction has never been more timely. Sadly some one hundred years later we still hear and see horrific stories of the gassing of innocent people.
Whilst I found the first half slightly difficult to follow because of the detailed historic and chemical references, the second half became much clearer and more enjoyable to watch. An interesting show and for those with a keen interest in World War One history, this is likely to be unmissable.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by S R Taylor
Finborough Theatre until 29th September
Recently reviewed at this venue