Too often, we see the First World War as a stretch of years where only war happened, followed by years where the art about the war exploded in its disruptive manner. However, this is not the case, and Not About Heroes seeks to challenge that by telling us the story of some of the war’s two most famous poets: Wilfred Owen and Siefried Sassoon. The result: a heartfelt story about the friendship of two men, brought to life by stellar acting.
Friendship is the core of the play, and what holds it together, in both performance and narrative.
Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon have two things in common: They are both interested in poetry and they have both been committed to the Craiglockhart War Hospital because of shell shock. The difference is that Sassoon is at this point a famous poet, while Owen is merely beginning. The play examines their relationship, and how it changes both their lives for the better. With a two-person play, the onus is on the actors to make the story engaging, and this is one area in which this show shines. Daniel Llewellyn-Williams and Iestyn Arwel have brilliant chemistry, and every second of their friendship’s development feels nothing short of real. Arwel especially deserves praise for his portrayal of Owen, a quiet, gentle man with the confidence that only quiet, gentle men can have.
The problem that I see with this show is that it doesn’t understand the importance of its own characters and its own story. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are titans of first world war poetry, but there’s no weight to the development of these poetic figures. Owen’s most infamous poem, Dulce et Decorum est doesn’t even appear in the text of this play, and it reduces the significance of the events on stage down to the interpersonal elements. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because that relationship is so strong, but I wish that more had been made of it.
Not About Heroes is fundamentally about heroes in its own way. It’s about how those we idolise affect us, and how we make them idolise us in return. It’s about friendship, joy and loss in the shadow of an event that destroys all those things in spades. That friendship is the core of the play, and what holds it together, in both performance and narrative. It’s a shame that it isn’t more ambitious in its scope, but that makes it no less of a great experience.