The Wipers Times
Richmond Theatre, 27th September 2017
The Wipers Times has been knocking about for a couple of years know having morphed from the TV drama written by Ian Hislop and regular partner Nick Newman (which I didn’t see) into the play version at Newbury and then the Arts Theatre (which I missed) and now a UK tour. So off I trotted with the SO and MIL, hoping for a satirical treat.
Don’t get me wrong. This is an interesting story, the production of a newspaper for the troops in WWI, with some spirited and well drilled performances, led by James Dutton as Captain Roberts and George Kemp as Lieutenant Pearson, and a cunning set. It is just a little bit too monotone and the laughs just a little bit too lazy to really work. The voices of Ian Hislop and Nick Newman (a satirical cartoonist in his day job) come over loud and clear but, after a while, they start to grate. Mr Hislop has many fine qualities but I do find he is sometimes just a little too pleased with himself. And here it just seems that he and his partner have taken the easy way through the story rather than challenging themselves, or us the audience. I was also too often thinking of the antecedents and influences here, notably Oh What a Lovely War during the musical numbers (often brutally short) and Blackadder.
As the sarcastic one-liners bemoaning the futility of war piled up, and the Toffs and Tommies fitted neatly into their assigned roles, I was left hoping for something that might pull me up in my seat and snap me out of the faintly amused torpor into which I sank. I am afraid this didn’t come. A bit more about how these resourceful characters were able to produce the newspaper would have been interesting as would a bit more about the political context in which the newspaper operated. Some of the stiff upper lip gallows humour might have been sacrificed as might the verbatim delivery of extracts from the paper itself. A few interesting asides, for example on the Michelin Guide to the Battlefields and the perils of drunkenness on the front, were introduced but generally the narrative followed a fairly calculated arc.
I wanted to like this so much more than I did and, if your expectations are not set too high, there is enough here to make you laugh and think. Yet I was not moved and even at just a couple of hours it still felt a bit drawn out. I wasn’t alone. SO, and even the MIL who is normally a little more forgiving, were underwhelmed. Sorry.