Finborough Theatre, London – until 29 September 2018
Now here’s a wheeze for a show about poison gas
well, chemistry, fertiliser; let’s not be crass
It’s a review written entirely in verse
Befitting the play that’s just as terse.
Tony Harrison’s Square Rounds returns to the stage
a poetic reconstruction of an industrious age
when Jewish German scientists thought about shit
Or rather, with horses redundant, the lack of it.
No mares to defecate, no steeds to shat
the motor car and machine gun had seen to that.
The mechanisation of war had decreased the surplus plop
with disastrous implications for Europe’s crop.
Justus Von Liebig, an indignant 19th century kraut,
laments the waste of the waste us humans spout
or drop if you prefer, let’s not be crude
you might be reading while eating your food.
The British flush it away, bury their dead
when the corpses could seed the soil in a bed,
and already we note an emerging view
that religion and sentiment will no longer do.
Science has designs that trump all that crap
later perverted for murdering the chaps.
Science built projectiles and the Maxim gun
but this wasn’t enough for the war-weary Hun.
He needed a weapon to bring victory near
So turned to Fritz Haber and his wife, Clara Immerwahr.
The problem, thought Fritz, were these shooters
that produced a stalemate, cut down the suitors
leaving mothers bereft and Europe’s ladies dry
“We need a game changer,” he said with a cry!
And so, Harrison reminds us, he formulated the gas
that would murder the men but keep them intact.
The Mums of Europe would have something to bury
No longer fertiliser for the few, but for the many.
Thus scientific endeavour was hijacked to win a war
traducing the idealism of those who’d formulated before.
And later, in a harrowing and sinister twist,
the science would necessitate Oskar Schindler making a list.
Oh, and I did mention, the play’s ultimate wheeze?
That the ideas were relics, copyright the Chinese.
This is a vivid production from an all female cast,
Feiler, Goldman, Green, Marchant, Quinn and Thomas.
Who handle the verse with considerable aplomb
while recalling the story of the gaseous bomb.
The Finborough Theatre, that gem atop an old public house,
continues to stage work that’s certain to rouse.
But it’s not on for long so don’t wait to buy,
or your theatrical dream may splutter and die.