SmallWar (Edinburgh Fringe)

Belgian company SKaGeN explore the history of conflict in this disappointing follow-up to ”BigMouth”

Belgian writer/performer Valentjin Dhaenens has drawn on a wide range of testimonies to create this meditation on conflict that follows up his 2012 hit BigMouth.

From Attila the Hun to Enid Bagnold, the words of soldiers and nurses caught up in some of history's bloodiest wars are mixed to create a melancholic look at the reason men continue to kill each other in battle.

Set at the bedside of a mutated soldier in World War One, Dhaenens plays the part of his nurse and also the wounded man's various spirits who rise from the bed to appear on a screen that runs the length of the stage.

Among the themes explored are religion, love and, most arrestingly, the "beauty" of killing, the idea that war is, in the words of the soldier, like an unavoidable "natural disaster" man is powerless to prevent. Anachronistic songs from "Nature Boy" to "Smile", hauntingly sung by the baritone nurse, punctuate proceedings.

But all this strange reflection doesn't really lead anywhere, and nor does it ever become particularly engaging. As impressive as the high definition video work from designer Jeroen Wuyts may be, it nevertheless becomes monotonous and the soldiers on screen reduced to little more than a grim chorus.

In a year that is witnessing a flood of World War One plays, both at the Fringe and further beyond, in recognition of its centenary, SmallWar fails to stand out. I was left with an overwhelming feeling of dismay that such a visceral and epic conflict could be reduced to such a dramatically tepid hour.

SmallWar, which is co-produced with Theatre Royal, Plymouth, runs at the Traverse Theatre until 24 August