SmallWar, a piece adapted from actual accounts of events and experiences from conflicts spanning from WWI to Afghanistan, is an interestingly understated exploration of the emotional and physical side effects of battle. The show, written and performed by Valentijn Dhaenens, is set at the bedside of a soldier in a coma. A number of versions of the same soldier describe the events leading up to his injury and his trying to come to terms with what’s happened while his nurse gives insight into the surrounding events.

SmallWar is an impressive delving into the true horrors of war and the suffering of heroes who are often forgotten by so many.

The technical aspects of the production contribute immensely to Dhaenens’ performance and are genuinely impressive. Through the use of two video screens, Dhaenens plays the Nurse on stage while projections of him playing the Soldier and the embodiments of the soldier’s psyche are projected onscreen. The acapella choral music sung by the projections of the Soldier’s consciousness creates a beautiful soundscape over which the Nurse speaks and sings. The vocal dynamics wash over the audience, feeding into the character’s dark and thought provoking monologues.

The performances are impressive--the details of injury and loss strike a chord with the audience throughout. Dhaenens is an impressive theatrical force, playing every role movingly and with conviction. In particular, Nurse’s gentle tone and approach to the narrative draw the audience into the stories told. However, while it feels like this production should push all the buttons, there is something missing. The narrative drive of the piece is not strong enough to keep the audience engaged entirely and perhaps making more use of the impressive technical setup to make the production a little less static would enthrall us and carry us away with the moving and tragic stories.

The production doesn’t bring anything entirely new to the fore. The films, in particular, could have been used to create a greater variety in the presentation of the stories and further the dramatic pull of the piece. This piece needs something a bit different. This accepted, SmallWar is an impressive delving into the true horrors of war and the suffering of heroes who are often forgotten by so many. 

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The Blurb

‘When clean souls boil up in the backwash, they will consolidate after the final war, into a peace that shall endure … but not till then. By examining the things cast up in the backwash, we can gauge the progress of humanity’ (Ellen Newbold-La-Motte, nurse in a field hospital 1914, a field station behind the front lines). A nurse, maintaining watchful vigil over patients as fragments of past wars lurk within the shadows. From the creators of BigMouth, SmallWar tells the story in the words of those who were there and led the way, and crucially, those who followed.