SmallWar (4 stars)

This article is from 2014


Powerful verbatim WWI work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Flemish actor and writer Valentijn Dhaenens’ follow-up to 2012’s Bigmouth looks at the little people caught up in conflicts enacted by his previous production’s world-leading figures. But don’t expect a tear-drenched memorial for the fallen, nor a rousing celebration of valour.

Instead, Dhaenens’ thoughtful, quiet, almost meditative piece looks at the tragic detail of war – the letters from despairing wives, the injuries and medical processes, the terrified resignation of going into battle – and even philosophical speculations on life and death that go way beyond a simplistic condemnation of violence.

In Jeroen Wuyts’ ingenious and highly effective staging, Dhaenens is a WWI hospital nurse, joined by several digital projections of himself as the spirits (maybe) of fatally injured soldiers, summoned from rest by phone calls from parents and lovers. As in Bigmouth, Dhaenens uses verbatim texts, this time from soldiers and carers from the time of Atilla the Hun to present-day Afghanistan.

If at times the show feels a touch cold, that’s only fitting as an antidote to the hot-headed remembrances found elsewhere in the WWI centenary year – and, as Dhaenens ably demonstrates in his revelatory creation, a whisper of insight can be as powerful as a scream of despair.

Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 24 Aug (not 11, 18, 19, 21, 23, times vary), £19 (£14).


  • 4 stars

SKaGeN, Richard Jordan Productions, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Big in Belgium ‘When clean souls boil up in the backwash, they will consolidate after the final war, into a peace that shall endure … but not till then. By examining the things cast up in the backwash, we can gauge the progress of humanity’ (Ellen…