The monotony, the discomfort of standing up, the sheer volume and relentlessness of the explosions and the piles of dead bodies all come together very effectively to simulate the trauma of the war.
This site-specific show takes place in a crammed underground space that resembles a bunker. Maximum capacity for the audience is about twelve people and we stand for the entire seventy minutes. It is an uncomfortable experience and deliberately so. We watch, up-close, as the soldier goes over the top, yelling to himself: “concentrate, concentrate, concentrate!” The actress bangs on the metal table with an iron baton, shaking our eardrums with bomb shells going off; with the handle of a knife she simulates machine gun fire. After the battle, we are in a hospital, watching the nurse. It seems to be long since her tasks have become routine: she takes out a handful of meat chunks from a bucket . She disposes of the dead, amputates limbs and crudely stitches up the injured.
These two events happen repeatedly throughout the show. The monotony, the discomfort of standing up, the sheer volume and relentlessness of the explosions and the piles of dead bodies all come together very effectively to simulate the trauma of the war. As the show progressed, my body and mind came to know very well what to expect when the soldier was about to go over the top, but the noises and the explosions made me flinch harder and harder. It is so visceral that one feels that life in the trenches was nothing to get used to.
The tone of the letters becomes more and more tragic. The nurse and the soldier fall deeper and deeper in love and tell each other more and more about the bright future they plan to have together. Their prose is not beautiful or poetic and at times comes across as clumsy, even, but they are not wordsmiths: they are a nurse and a soldier. Perhaps the show has no obligation to turn a story of a devastating war into something beautiful. Several audience members were in tears by the end. This show is very tragic and difficult to get through, but it is also very necessary. A brilliantly effective, novel way of depicting the terrors of the trenches, the Great War, and its far-reaching devastation.