The Wipers Times, by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, Salisbury Playhouse, Nov 2016.

The Wipers Times – world war one play, set in Ypres.

Well, this is the first time that I can ever remember that I’ve left a show at the intermission. I was so looking forward to seeing this piece, not only because I know a member of the cast (vaguely), but also because I am fascinated with World War One (I have written a play about it called The Devil’s Rope), and also I quite like Ian Hislop on Have I got news for you?

Sadly, this didn’t translate as brilliantly as it should. I felt that there was an air of smug superiority in the piece, based on the true story of a group of men who set up a printing press in the trenches. It felt – to me – like every old-fashioned and dull notion that middle ranks were jolly clever, high ranks utterly malignant and low ranks thick.  There was nothing new, fresh or challenging in the way this story was told. You hear a lot about echo chambers in social media, this felt like an echo chamber on stage.

The actors were all great, working with given material, the set was a little busy with transitions sung brilliantly, but never-ending punctuation to the story, and the costumes / lights etc all fine. But I felt that there was no real heart and what I was witnessing was Ian Hislop’s almost-witticisms far too frequently.

But as ever, it was me (and my husband who went to sleep within five minutes) against everyone else. The rest of the audience was chortling and clapping and feeling the joy.  Perhaps I had built this up in my head to be the most wonderful play ever, and I am judging against what I had hoped for, rather than against going to the theatre and seeing a regular play?

Either way, it did do one thing really, really well, and that was the programme – which has interested me in the bigger story. Darn. I feel such a humbug, but also quite grown-up about walking away from the show that didn’t deliver.

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