I saw a show that dramatised trench warfare that brought me to tears. I wanted to share the experience because of the depth of feeling it conveyed to me in layers and depth that I have tried to reflect in images.
In spite of the evocative script sensitively adapted from Erich Remarque’s novel, it’s what this show doesn’t say that holds the most power. The negative space occupied by the unspoken word tells the story penetratingly through human sounds. Rifle drills are punctuated by gasps that echo the strain of battle and wooden boxes are banged to the ground with desperation under Roberta Zuric’s meticulous direction.
The intuitive way the cast of five male actors connect to the tragedy of the Great War begins the moment the audience enters the space and sees soldiers viewing the Western Front. The trench they stare at holds a mirror to where writer Erich Remarque was sent to as a teenager. Remarque wrote his book in 1927 to share the drama he experienced after being wounded by shrapnel and being repatriated to an army hospital in Germany. Incognito Theatre play out these milestones of Remarque’s life in fine detail, from the moment each Soldier is recruited from school with the bait that ‘it will be a quick war’ to their bitter end that they have no control over.
Although Remarque’s book is not autobiographical his slamming protest on the futility of war is heard loudly during this gripping plot that Incognito Theatre have translated into powerful Physical Theatre. The heart of the author beats through every reverberation of colourful expression that ripples through the on-stage grind of being a Soldier.
The author’s honesty to expose the absurd nature of war is seen when the Soldiers, away from the Western Front, kill a pig and roast it for dinner before going back to facing death in the trenches. Truth telling is something the Soldiers understandably struggle with in these circumstances. This is shown when Friedrich Muller (George John) asks his fellow Soldiers the question of what they will do when they get home. This prompts Soldier Albert Kropp’s (Joe Taylor) moving response that his home is now out on the battlefield.
Remarque’s sister was found guilty by the Nazi’s people court for a similar view, claiming the war was lost. These insights into Remarque’s life are reflected throughout the adaptation while boxes are moved to take the plot ever closer to the mental deterioration of the men.
Remarque experienced a breakdown in his own circumstances for expressing the emotions he felt about war. His German nationality was revoked as the book challenged the Nazis who then made false claims that he had not served on the front line.
This production proves the Nazi’s wrong by filling the stage with a deep physical intensity that shows the full force of men becoming animals of war, inspired by a description that could only have been borne from experience. However it is not the terrifying violence that brings an air of sadness to the audience.
The moment Paul Baumer (Charlie MacVicar) realises his home will never be the same again as he takes a week of leave from the Front I feel my face wet with tears. It is a moment of silent softness that delivers the author’s thumping protest at full volume.
The natural soundscape of this performance reinterprets the word ‘quiet’. Even when a panicking soldier chokes on his own fear there is a stillness. The audience relates. Watching a lively school boy deteriorating into a broken man, like the actor on stage, is hard to swallow.
Find similar posts on layers here