The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
It Is Easy To Be Dead
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk Spring-Summer 2020
The Finborough is one
of London's oldest and most productive and adventurous above-a-pub
theatres. This play by Artistic Director Neil McPherson was a success
there in 2016 and went on to a further run at Trafalgar Studio 2. The
video recording made then is now offered online as the first in a
series of lockdown-era streamed productions.
The play is a portrait
of First World War soldier-poet Charles Hamilton Sorley, drawn
largely from his letters and poems. As such it invites evaluation on
three points – how effectively it captures the man and the poet,
how well it stands on its own terms as a theatre piece, and how
successfully it translates from stage to screen. And the answer to
all three is only partial success.
McPherson's script uses
of Sorley's parents going through his papers after his death in
battle, and so the structure is simply chronological. The nature of
the available material and the man's life means that we see more of
the schoolboy than the adult, more of the civilian than the soldier,
more of an officer's happy life in a British posting than of the
As played by Alexander
Knox, Sorley seems an amiably callow
youth who moves the not very great distance from precociously clever
Public School boy to impressionable tourist in pre-war Germany to
(Given little to do but
look sad by the
script or Max Key's direction, Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee generously
serve the play. Pianist Elizabeth Rossiter and singer Hugh Benson
punctuate the action with evocative period music.)
The play raises
one potential opportunity for insight into the man – he fell in
love with Germany and its culture (and perhaps with his landlord's
wife) before the war and thus felt some ambivalence about fighting.
But McPherson has patriotism win out by a hair without any real
soul-searching or pain for the man.
Meanwhile, the poems we
clever but more glib than deep, and so one goal of a show like this –
to convince us of Sorley's importance as a poet and inspire us to
read further – isn't really met.
Things are a little more
successful when judged simply as a play. Though there isn't much
character development or forward movement beyond chronology, the fact
that we know what's coming at the end injects some colour and depth.
Here Alexander Knox's
image of open-faced innocence works quite well,
increasing the sense of impending doom. But even here much of the
tragic irony is imposed on the material rather than drawn from it.
Sorley enjoys his early days in the army, projections on the back
wall tell us of the horrors going on elsewhere in the war, and every
time the character mentions a friend or fellow officer by name the
projection tells us when and where that man will die.
knows none of this, except for news of Rupert Brooke's death, which
inspires a disdainful comment on Brooke's poetry.)
reach the trenches until the last fifteen minutes of the
ninety-minute play, too late to allow any real sense of the
experience's effect on him.
The video version, made during an actual performance, moves smoothly and intelligently between two cameras. But the stage lighting is not always sufficient for the camera's eye, and what would seem to be a single microphone at one side of the stage makes some voices ten feet away inaudible and others muffled.
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