The play is a quiet but provoking look at the Great War and its repercussions.
At the heart of the play is a battle between the Imperial War Graves Commission, represented by a determined Miss Parker (Heather Daniel), and the no-nonsense Edith Ashwood (Sophie Harris), whose eldest son, Harry, died serving abroad. Their discussions are all tea, ginger snaps and ‘quite so my dear’ one moment, and then in the next they’re locked in a fierce clash of ideologies (with the cast bringing out some of the comic elements here). They disagree most fervently over the treatment of the war’s fallen heroes. Some interesting questions are explored here: is it fair to allow certain families with the necessary means to bury their beloved dead, or should all the casualties be buried together as equals in mass graves? With the addition of the remaining members of the Ashwood family—daughter Helen (Grace Gilbert), and younger son Tom (Andrew Weir)— as well with Martin O’Reilly (Rob Younger), an Irish soldier who fought alongside Harry, there are more questions to consider. Does only death allow you recognition for duty? Should deeds like these even be remembered, let alone honoured? Do the dead even need our respect? What makes them so special?
Gradually these questions give way to the family’s personal dramas, as it reveals what the war meant to Helen and Tom. There’s also more to learn about the relationship they had with their older brother, and O’Reilly is able to shed more light on Harry’s nature. This portion of the play arguably detracts from some of the questions that the first half raises, because we’re now talking about what’s right for a very specific soldier and his family; but that’s not really a problem, since by now we’ve become invested in the Ashwoods, and their story unfolds in a well-measured and interesting manner. For all involved, the past won’t release its suffocating grip on their futures, no matter how hard they struggle.
For the most part we watch these characters interact in the Ashwood’s drawing room, which is decked out with antique furniture; but a particular highlight is when they move away from here and to the surrealism of the sleepless night scene. They each discuss what’s been preventing their sleep, locked in their own isolation, but at the same time there’s an interesting sense that they are all connected, that their night-thoughts run along similar lines. This scene provided a welcome bit of change just as the play was beginning to lag.
The actors all do a good job of bringing to life these ordinary people and their personal suffering. The play is a quiet but provoking look at the Great War and its repercussions.