All Quiet on the Western Front @ The Playhouse

I could be accused of wanting to see this production merely out of curiosity for how James Alexandrou (the spotty Martin Fowler of Albert Square fame) would cope with Robin Kingsland’s adaptation of the dark and uncomfortable story of a German soldier in the trenches…but that would be unfair. The production is in fact a slick and very involving story that fluctuates smoothly between the pertinent, the haunting and the hilarious. And in case you’re wondering, Alexandrou does manage to leave Martin Fowler behind, although the cockney accent has stuck.

The most overwhelming impact of this piece is as a story of camaraderie and friendship, mostly due to the impressive way in which the cast work so well together, responding to each other naturally to make the production very much a group performance. There are no particularly striking individual performances, perhaps with the exception of Ryan Early’s warm and believable depiction of the loved and respected ‘Kat’. As the starring role, Alexandrou’s delivery lacks conviction, and is often self-conscious as he races to the end of each line. As is true for the whole cast, Alexandrou is most engaging as part of the group dialogue which plays out much more sincerely and convincingly than his solo asides to the audience.

The direction and design of this production is resourceful and imaginative, and kept me completely engaged throughout a very well blocked and choreographed piece. Scene changes are polished and rhythmic, never stilting the production. I was surprised but impressed by the musical aspects of the piece, namely the songs that punctuate the story throughout, enhancing both the warm solidarity of the soldiers and the more haunting moments of despair. The inventive use of set and space also allows the cast to create onstage sound effects, which gave the production a really interesting and modern edge as well as creating a harsh immediacy in the explosion sounds.

The director subtly blends in darker themes of war and death, the pertinent blurring of lines between historically defined opponents, and the continuous struggle for survival, without preaching. The fluid changes of tone and pace keep us engaged as we move from the sombre treatment of war and death to uplifting friendship and the comedic entertainment of watching a group of seventeen year old blokes pass the time. There is one scene which resonates so strongly of a group of young men watching a match, complete with beer and banter, that for a split second I thought maybe I’d gone to the pub by mistake.

Emily Shirtcliff

ArtsArts Reviews

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