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Forgotten Voices (Edinburgh Fringe)

This authoritative piece gives a dignified airing to the voices of the Great War

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Amid the plethora of shows marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One at the Fringe this year, Forgotten Voices is the equivalent of an authoritative - if slightly stuffy - BBC4 documentary.

The set-up couldn't be simpler. Five actors at lecterns give voice to personal testimonies from the conflict, while accompanying paintings are projected on a screen behind. The soldierly subjects are a blend of high and low ranks, while Wendy Nottingham represents the women left behind.

From a recruitment drive in a music hall at the high-spirited outbreak of war to the slaughter of the Somme and Passchendaele, we're taken on a chronological journey through the conflict. Many of the testimonies - which are edited by Malcolm McKay from the Imperial War Museum archive - feel all-too familiar from many a documentary, be it women handing out white feathers to men not in uniform or soldiers drowning in mud.

But nevertheless, they provide an important reminder of just how grim those years of 1914-18 were, and some of the details still shock - the fact the men were banned from having white handkerchiefs lest they use them to surrender, or the image of a man grasping at his neck during a gas attack despite having lost a hand.

We also get the American perspective. Robert Vaughn (fresh from his run in the West End in Twelve Angry Men) takes the stage late on in proceedings, symbolising the country's delayed entry into the war, and talks us through the long battles of 1918 that finally brought the conflict grinding to a bloody halt.

The cast - who change over the course of the festival - are solid if not exceptional, with Julian Sands lending particular emotion to an officer who, despite his initial enthusiasm to be part of the conflict, is worn down to the point of mental collapse.

As a young man myself, I find it a sobering thought that, were I born a century earlier, it could well be my testimony being read. We must never forget the sacrifice made by a that doomed generation, and Forgotten Voices gives them a dignified and respectful airing.

Forgotten Voices runs at Pleasance Courtyard until 25 August