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Wednesday 5th December 2007
Theatre Review | MY REAL WAR 1914 - ? | Two's Company @ Tristan Bates Theatre [end of tour]

Production (end of tour): My Real War 1914 - ?
Playwright: Tricia Thorns, adapted from the letters of 2nd Lieutenant Havilland le Mesurier
Producer: Two's Company
Venue: Tristan Bates Theatre
Address: The Actors' Centre, 1a Tower Street, London WC2H 9NP
Box Office: +44 (0)20 7240 6283
Dates: 3 - 8 December 2007 (30 Oct @ Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough)
Opened: 3 December 2007
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Reviewed by Kevin Quarmby

The Thiepval Memorial in Northern France bears the names of 73,357 men of the British armies who died between 1915 and 1918 at the Somme and who have no known graves. On Pier 13, Face A, one name stands out: that of Le MESURIER H., actually 2nd Lieutenant Havilland Le Mesurier, known to his family as 'Lem' and to his fellow officers as 'Tiny'. 'Lem' was an avid and lucid letter writer. His letters from the Front Line in France provide a fascinating insight into a world that all of us recognize but, fortunately, so few can possibly truly imagine. This is the world of blood and decay, mud and eardrum-shattering noise, and the lazy boredom of waiting for death. Glorious or mundane, that death is the reason the young (and not so young) men were huddled in their sodden trenches. Death is a constant companion to them all.

How surprising, then, that this biographical narrative based on actual correspondence, brilliantly realised by the adaptor and director Tricia Thorns, should be so enchanting and moving. The latest project of Two's Company, whose previous productions are collectively called Forgotten Voices from the Great War, My Real War 1914 - ? uses a simple, evocative and no-nonsense set by designer Alex Marker to encapsulate the mad and muddy world of an Officers' Mess in the trenches. Marker's excellent design-concept is complemented by Duncan Coombe's subtle lighting design and back-projection which provides a photographic context for the war and for the passage of time, as well as by Adrienne Quartly's effective sound.

All praise must, however, go to the play's actor, the young Philip Desmeules. In My Real War 1914 - ?, Desmeules escorts us on his character's emotional journey as a young officer, forced by circumstance to leave his Oxford degree and join his compatriots fighting for his country. For any actor to hold our attention for over eighty minutes would be worthy of comment. With Desmeules guiding us, we lose track of time as we eagerly listen to his glorious tales of 'japes' and 'larks', vicariously sip on bottles of vintage Châteauneuf-du-Pape and home-steamed plum pudding, or worry concernedly for his deteriorating health and well-being in the hellish fields of Flanders.

Desmeules is wonderful as the young Le Mesurier; all who have sons (and daughters) in their twenties will recognize the muscle-wrenching horror us parents feel as we hear him describe his life-changing experiences. War is particularly ugly, particularly bloody, when it cuts short the lives of the young. My Real War 1914 - ? illustrates this fundamental truth without wallowing in sentimentality or jingoistic glory. This is dramatized historical evidence at its emotive best.

Kevin Quarmby © 2007

Above Philip Desmeules
Photographer: Philip Gammon
Philip Desmeules
Director: Tricia Thorns
Designer: Alex Marker
Lighting Designer: Duncan Coombe
Sound Designer: Adrienne Quartly

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