Les Enfants Terribles dig into war’s deepest horrors

Two for the Trench at Harrogate Theatre.
Two for the Trench at Harrogate Theatre.

Review by Dane Wright

The Trench, Harrogate Theatre.

Having won rave reviews elsewhere, expectations were high when the Les Enfants Terribles’ production of World War One epic The Trench arrived for three nights at Harrogate Theatre.

Given its title audiences may have been expecting something along the lines of All Quiet On The Western Front’and similar depictions of the horrors of life on the Western Front.

However what this show, penned by Oliver Lansbury, offered was actually quite different.

The Trench took the typical World War One story and plunged both mentally and physically downwards, deep into both a mine below the battlefield and into the subconscious of its central character.

The show tells the story of Sapper Bert’ played by Ben Warwick who, after a few moments of introduction to set the scene, in a split second has his world figuratively and literally blown apart.

What followed was the portrayal of Bert’s struggle to escape from an exploded mine shaft; all while trying to come to terms with the worst possible news from home.

In an immersive and inventive piece of theatre, The Trench intricately combined elements of physical theatre, puppetry and projected illustration to portray Bert’s struggles.

The supporting cast members interacted with Warwick and a cleverly designed, flexible set like a well-oiled machine.

As a result the physical aspects of the show ebbed and flowed smoothly, keeping all eyes glued to the stage.

Unfortunately the dialogue, mostly delivered in a third person monologue by Warwick, wasn’t always quite as sharp or as enjoyable to follow.

Although the script did a passable job of conveying Bert’s anguish and will to survive, it was at times overly wordy and delivered in a monotone.

Besides the use of Labyrinth-esque puppets, what really made The Trench intriguing was its use of music and the singer song-writer Alexander Wolfe.

Wolfe’s music provided the soundtrack to the entire show, backed in parts by several of the actors also playing instruments.

Although more used to sharing the stage with the likes of Paul Weller, Wolfe looked at home on a theatre stage.

His brooding acoustic folk added to the atmospheric, emotive nature of the piece while creating an unusual juxtaposition of time periods. Despite the songs not always fitting particularly closely with the story, the swelling guitar and Wolfe’s soulful vocals helped to bring the show’s finale in particular to a poignant climax.

The Trench was an enjoyable and innovative spectacle, making superb use of music and fantasy to distance itself from the all too real horrors of the First World War; while still effectively retelling the suffering and unbreakable human spirit of those caught up in the conflict.