Arts Review: The Wipers Times

Dir. Caroline Lesie, Theatre Royal, 7-11 November

What is the first and last thing a war needs? British humour, perhaps. The Wipers Times does a brilliant job in paying tribute to a satirical newspaper produced and published by British soldiers in the trenches during WWI. The soldiers stationed in a Belgium town called Ypres, upon mispronouncing its name and discovering a functioning printing press, created the Wipers Times. Written by celebrated satirist and cartoonist Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, this play is humorous but not always light-hearted as it explores the grave subject matter in a more nuanced manner.

Conveniently timed to premier during Remembrance month, Wipers Times is an economical and space-efficient production that instantly gives us the claustrophobic feeling of life in the trenches and immediately transports us back in time. It tells the story of a group of soldiers, led by Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Pearson, who struggle to produce the newspaper amid the ongoing warfare and pressure from higher ranking officers. But really the performance is not about the story at all. It is about the jokes and puns that the audience can’t seem to have enough of. One of the highlights of the show was when Lieutenant Pearson makes a remarkable satire on false optimism at the home front which left the audience, me included, laughing and clapping for a good ten minutes. The barbed wires in the background are cleverly used and lit up as fairy lights for sketches that supposedly represent the likes of works published by the actual newspaper.

Dry and dark British humour aside, the play has at its heart an anti-war narrative like most works surrounding this topic. The gravity and futility of war is an underlying mood that resurfaces when the soldiers enter the battlefield in no-mans-land. When laughter disappears and fairy lights fade the play effectively conveys the solemnity of war to a modern audience. But what it ultimately succeeds in showing is that humour can transcend even the harshest realities and elevates humanity into victory. Perhaps this is a notion we should bear in mind for the future.

[Nini Huang – @niniiiiihuang]

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