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The Trench (tour - Bury St Edmunds, Theatre Royal)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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  "My subject is war, and the pity of war" wrote Wilfred Owen. In Les Enfants Terribles' one-hour riff on that theme we are hurled into the grisly carnage of the Somme trenches to focus on a miner called Bert, his young volunteer-companion Colin and what happens when Bert's skills take him deep underground in No-Man's-Land to tunnel towards a German emplacement.

It's written and co-directed by Oliver Lansley with an atmospheric score by Alexander Wolfe. What the audience experiences is a concentration of physical theatre at its most committed, allied to shadow play and the sort of highly effective puppetry which reminds us that this is an adult theatre skill, not just entertainment for childen.

There are three main puppets. One represents Bert's wife, pregnant with their first child when he joins the army. As his tunnel collapses, burying him with a minute pocket of air and killing Colin, he hallucinates. Out of the shadows creeps a sort of Nibelung monster, all prehensile claws and raptor beak in a canine head. This sets him three tasks if he is to find safety.

The last of these presents him with a murkily winged apparition, perhaps the personification of mustard gas. As in all allegories concerning man's desire for the unattainable, Bert's "reward" is not what he expects, but what he may have been seeking without recognising it. The language is poetic, rather than demotic, but the symbolism is handled superbly and with the utmost sincerity.

Les Enfants Terribles is one of those companies which neglect to identify its design team or the actors. So I can only tell you that the cast is uniformly good, and that the design elements, both scenic and lighting, add their weight to the total effect.


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