If Siegfried Sassoon had written Brideshead Revisited, the result would likely resemble Another Company’s original piece, For The Trumpets Shall Sound. Here, the now-near-pulpified trope of the familial love triangle is re-kitted in a military uniform, as the intra-trench love affair between fellow soldiers Jamie and Robert is endangered by the perils of war and the oppressive edicts of a bygone society. By the time a parallel romance blossoms between Jamie and Robert’s cousin (Nora the nurse), all these elements may begin to feel a little familiar, yet this production makes them worth another look.
An intimately minimal, modest piece of theatre, For The Trumpets Shall Sound consistently wins its little victories in those moments when understatement is allowed to abound; characters are made captivating by the actors’ refusal to cave into grandstanding throes of melodramatic sadness. Kayleigh Hawkins displays her emotional and physical exhaustion with a roll of the eye and a flick of the head, whilst Richard Hills-Ingyon communicates the emotional turmoil of James through an impressive dedication to a pedestrian tone of pleasantry.
Against a backdrop of such muted mannerisms, scenes of real emotional power are allowed to flourish. The passion of James and Robert’s first embrace is exacerbated by its contrast to the ever-present undercurrent of clipped, clinical, Watch-with-Mother-style narration provided by Bil Rose’s Ruth, as she dryly reads from James’ wartime memoirs. Likewise, Hawkins’ final retches and lurches of burgeoning grief are made magically agonising by the quiet control that ever went before.
And yet, for all the brave efforts of the cast to soldier on in this masterpiece of the mundane, their efforts are undercut by a script that frequently tends toward the melodramatic. Every so often, dialogue descends into clichéd phrases and emotional excess; characters lament living in hell, and exclaim their desire to curl up into a ball and forget the world. Characterisation is uneven too, with the emotional dynamics between James and his respective lovers yo-yoing back and forth. For example, in one scene, James is sheepishly shocked by the proclaimed sexual confidence of Robert, and in the next he lies languidly upon their bed as Robert gibbers neurotically over their illicit love. Whilst the heavy-handed elements of the script are somewhat stemmed by a good performance, in less competent hands it could easily rehashed in a far hammier manner.
Overall, For the Trumpets Shall Sound is a play made enjoyable by its gentle touch and the simplicity of its storytelling. Whilst these soldiers may not be able to rest on their laurels, they certainly have something to blow their own horn about.