All Quiet on the Western Front

Incognito Theatre’s adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front is a solid, if predictable, production which ticks all of the necessary First World War boxes.

If you’ve seen Journey’s End or any other First World War drama, then you’ve probably seen this show before

Being an adaptation of Erich Remarque’s 1928 novel, it’s not hard to see why this might be the case. After all, just about every First World War drama has taken inspiration from it and its famous film adaptation in some way or another, meaning that all of it tropes are exceedingly well worn. Whilst the male ensemble do a good job in presenting a faithful adaptation within the constraints of an hour long running time, that’s about all they have the time to do.

Incognito’s production attempts to blend elements of physical theatre, caricature and naturalism together, with varied results. The slow-motion physical theatre, for instance, looks impressive against the smoke and soundscape the first time you see it, but drags after a while and by the end feels like it’s just being used to cover scene transitions. It’s rarely varied in its attempts to portray the horrors of the war, involving a lot of screaming and gnashing of teeth, and all in all it feels like it’s trying a bit too hard.

For a novel all about individual characters, it’s also rather difficult to keep track of who’s who. Characters are frequently swapped in and out of the story, and it’s only really when the ensemble portray extreme physical caricatures of particular characters that any sort of impression is made. One early scene portrayed the almost traditional scene of a group of soldiers visiting their friend who had recently has his leg amputated, but given that we’ve had little in the way of grounding for the characters by this point, it doesn’t strike the emotional gut punch that it should.

The ensemble’s strength is in finding the comedy of these characters. When they’re joking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company onstage, suddenly these previously underdeveloped characters spring to life. A particularly enjoyable scene where the group discuss the various different methods to cook a pig in the middle of an artillery strike is perhaps a glimpse of what might have been. Another nice touch was the wide variety of British accents used to portray these German soldiers, a subtlety that I wish had been present in other parts of the play.

Ultimately, if you’ve seen Journey’s End or any other First World War drama, then you’ve probably seen this show before, perhaps performed with a bit more nuance. All Quiet on the Western Front is so keen to tell us that the First World War was bad, but this is something that anyone who’s had a history class in school already knows and it doesn’t try to explore much else. Despite this, the ensemble are a talented bunch and are worth a shot for any keen history buff. 

Reviews by James Beagon

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The Blurb

Following a sell-out run at Edinburgh Fringe 2016 and subsequent transfer to SoHo Playhouse, NYC, Incognito Theatre return with their adaptation of Erich Remarque's tale that exposes the harrowing reality of trench warfare. Incognito use their signature physical style to create a poignant and visually stunning theatrical experience that exposes the personal sacrifices that were made for the sake of the Great War. 'Enthralling, moving and fundamentally, beautifully human' ***** (ThreeWeeks).