“An Explosive Blend of Storytelling”
The Trench by Les Enfants Terribles
100 years ago the world raged with an unimaginable conflict, which to some people today may seem like a distant dystopian dream. To mark the centenary of the end of the Great War, Les Enfant Terribles have revived and restored their dark fantastical production of The Trench at the beautiful Southwark Playhouse, which was originally produced in 2012.
Although a world of fantasy unfolds on stage, with hallucinations of creatures curled over, dragons breathing fire and the howls of the dead coming back to life, the underlying truths of the story are far too real to be ignored.
The plot is inspired by the true story of a veteran miner named Bert, who became entombed underground in a collapsed tunnel whilst saving his comrade. It follows this heavy-hearted man’s descent into madness. With the desire to serve his country and the pressures of the white feather, he leaves his wife and unborn child at home to volunteer for the army, where he befriends a young naive soldier of just 17 years of age. Their job is to dig a trench to place explosives under No Man’s Land. Bert teaches him the tricks of the trade underground and the two grow into a perfect routine and friendship, symbolised wonderfully through the use of expertly timed miming. Suddenly a letter arrives, with the tragic news that Bert’s wife and baby have passed away during childbirth, and like the physical bomb that shatters the world above and around him in that moment, this causes his world to crumble, as he becomes encased in darkness and isolation; and that’s where the magic of the production really begins.
The play is an explosive blend of storytelling through song, narration and mime with a plethora of majestic puppetry, emotive live music performed by Alexander Wolfe and an unforgettable performance by the lead Oliver Lansley. He captures every moment of fear, every moment of terror, and even every small moment of hope and happiness. And, despite the dark and treacherous tone of the piece, the story remains fresh and fast paced through the use of poetical dialogue and the ever changing creative set design. This ingenuity is epitomized when he is crawling through the tunnels, two planks of wood are used to reflect his claustrophobic lack of space to great effect.
The audience become engrossed in this environment from the moment they step into the auditorium, setup with flickering lamps and decorated like the tunnels themselves. There are moments of pitch black and there are moments of flashing lights, there are times of silence and serenity alongside screams of terror and the shrieks of a haunting violin. The harsh visual and audible contrasts are creatively intertwined throughout.
History can’t tell us exactly what happened to the miner once he was lost underground, and the play’s directors James Seagar and Oliver Lansley have seen this as an opportunity to unleash their unique vision to create a beautiful darkly twisted production and a world that although is full of fantasy, serves as an important reminder to the real horrific events that unfolded not so long ago, and the sacrifice that so many gave to the cause. The experience that the tunnelers must have had is so unimaginable in itself, that it is fitting that this play delves into the fantastical just to portray it. The Trench is a masterpiece that pushes the limits of storytelling on stage and should be seen by anyone who loves theatre at its most imaginative.
Reviewer | Stephen Sheldrake
The Trench is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 17 November 2018 with tickets priced from £16-£20.