Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152), Edinburgh – 6-21 August 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There is a kernel of emotional and poetic truth to Lest We Forget, the latest offering from writer-director James Beagon and Aulos Productions in the Studio at St Augustines. However, its effect is dissipated in a reworking of familiar themes and a setting that fails to do justice to its ambition.
Beagon could never be accused of repeating himself, with the subjects of his plays being hugely diverse in period and settings. This one deals with the seemingly unpromising subject of the War Graves Commission.
In 1920, the family of decorated war hero Harry Ashwood are being asked to lend their support for the idea that the bodies of the fallen should remain in Europe rather than being repatriated. But perhaps Harry was not the hero people remember – and those who survived the war are still reliving it….
There is a delicacy to Beagon’s well structured text that, together with the occasional diffident performance, means this production does not have as great an impact as it might. The horrors of the Great War are notoriously difficult to reproduce on stage – although many have tried recently.
Here the war is recollected in retrospect, which does not always succeed. The domestic focus of the story also has a restrictive, almost soap opera feel, that seems at odds with the subject matter.
The young cast cannot be faulted for effort. Rob Younger, as Harry’s troubled former colleague Sgt O’Reilly, is frighteningly convincing, while Heather Daniel’s spiky Commission representative Miss Parker is well judged.
Grace Gilbert and Andrew Weir, as the other Ashwood siblings, who have been damaged both by the war and by their family, convince intermittently but suffer from their characters being too sketchy, with the suspicion that we have been here before. Too many of the usual tropes of WWI drama – VAD drivers, ‘conchies’, the flu epidemic that followed – are brought in, and for little dramatic purpose.
Furthermore, the very ‘English’, stiff-upper-lip nature of many of the conversations makes it difficult to achieve emotional depth. And despite her sterling efforts, Sophie Harris (Tom’s mother Edith) always comes across as a young woman playing an old woman, rather the confused, bitter, bereaved widow that is intended.
When the more conventional set pieces are abandoned, and we get an insight into the characters’ thoughts, suddenly the play starts to sing. Similarly, the moments where each of the cast play Harry work far better than much of the rest. It is these more fractured, more poetic moments that have a real and lasting impact, rather than the more earthbound moments that seem too familiar.
Running time: 1 hour
Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152), 41 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EL,
Saturday 6 – Sun 21 August 2016 (not 14, 21)
Daily at 12 noon
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/lest-we-forget
Company website: https://aulosproductions.com