By turns harrowing, tender and witty, Guy Masterson's one-man commemoration of the soldiers of the First World War is a poetry reading of first-class calibre. With over a hundred shows during the course of twenty-one years at the Fringe, Guy Masterson has had plenty of time to cut his teeth as a performer, director and producer. This experience shows: he knows how to make an audience feel at home with off-the-cuff stage patter, providing light relief from some of the heavier material.
Simply put, this show cements Masterson's reputation as a master of his art.
Taking its title from Wilfred Owen's poem of the same name (Owen’s work features predominantly in the show), Masterson works his way through the poetry of not only the household names of English poets such as Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke but also that of Irish, French and German writers, each of which is introduced with a short biography. His renditions of classic pieces such as Brooke's The Soldier and Owen's Anthem For Doomed Youth and Dulce et Decorum est are all delivered with a range of inflection and sense of pace that would make even the most accomplished poet jealous. Moreover, his presentation of poets to whom posterity has not been kind, such as the Irishman Tom Kettle, is an inspired directorial decision.
Despite his opening claim of not wanting to “appropriate” the testaments of these men, Masterson is not afraid of upping the ante in some of the more dramatic pieces. At times, I felt that this detracted somewhat from the sentiment behind the poems, which are after all personal documents and not scores for dramatic exposition. This, coupled with the fact that during these pieces his delivery tended to be all one plane (one of panic and terror), made these the least effective weapons in Masterson's poetic arsenal.
By far the strongest point of the show is Masterson's own fictional account of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Spurred on by the fact that there has been surprisingly little written about it, Masterson has woven his own comic dialogue between Fritz and Tommy on Christmas Eve, 1914. Like his patter between readings and then some, this vignette strikes exactly the right balance between pathos and comedy. Simply put, this show cements Masterson's reputation as a master of his art.