REVIEW: The Wipers Times, Chichester Festival Theatre

The Wipers Times
The Wipers Times

In 1916 a group of soldiers of the 24th division of the Sherwood Foresters discovered a printing press in the bombed ruins of Ypres and launched their own newspaper.

It was packed with poems and gallows humour and its satire spared no-one, least of all their high command tucked away behind safe desks miles from the line of fire.

The Wipers Times - named after their pronunciation of Ypres - recounts their improvised, untrained journalism produced from the trenches in the thick of the fighting.

It was this very strain of bleak satire that was the hallmark of the classic Blackadder Goes Forth - and memories of that television series haunt the first half of this play.

Blackadder's construction and characterisation was sharper and better honed; by comparison this production feels like a poor imitation.

Except, of course, it is no imitation at all. It is the genuine article.

Hislop and Newman's script does not merely draw on the original newspaper material. It pays homage to it and the men who contrived and constructed it under the most appalling conditions history has ever witnessed.

Hislop, as editor of the satirical Private Eye, knows the debt his own publication owes to the story he recounts.

This production is simply done. There is no pretension here.

James Dutton gives a terrifically natural and human portrayal of Captain Fred Roberts who led the enterprise.

We are reminded, that while the German enemy sang an anthem of hatred - the British soldiers were sustained by a self-deprecating humour which has come to define our nation.

As a roll-call of the dead is read, there is a moment of realization for the audience that Blackadder, even at his best, was no match for this.

For this is not merely another reflection of the great war. It is not simply a repetition of themes.

It goes to the very heart of a nation and those who have sacrificed their lives for it.

* The Wipers Times; By Ian Hislop and Nick Newman