For the opening 20 minutes of The Trench everything is rhythmic. The verse, naturally, through to the audible drops of water in the deepest tunnels of the trenches to the clashes of hammers and chisels used therein: all sounds chime in regular unison to the extent that the actual music, provided by Alexander Wolfe, does not simply accentuate the action so much as form part of it. Music is only one of a number of mediums that fuse seamlessly in the course of The Trench, a spectacularly moving and multifaceted production that marks another triumph for writer, director, and actor Oliver Lansley and his company Les Enfants Terribles at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The Trench is a play only cursorily concerned with the Great War. It is not, as might reasonably be expected, simply a reminder of the horror and sacrifice inherent in war, designed as an antidote to 2012's summer of national pride. Rather, the opening third of the play, grounded in the claustrophobic but by now somewhat familiar reality of life in the trenches, forms an extended introduction to a personal epic that is the true thrust of The Trench. After this departure, war serves as a backdrop to a fantastical, monstrous, and viscerally affecting quest narrative played out in the mind of one man in the throes of death.
Lansley puts in an intensely physical performance as the play's protagonist Herbert, bristling with strength yet nonetheless cutting a tortured and downtrodden figure. Three further men besides Lansley are responsible for the play's narration, along with a variety of stunning visual effects. These narrators glide ghoul-like around the stage, constantly manipulating the landscape as they go and often controlling elaborate puppets representing the various demons Herbert is confronted with. Not only this, but they also occasionally join Wolfe on the side of the stage to supplement his vocals and guitar work with other instruments. No role is static and no medium out of bounds in The Trench, a piece of modern-day mythology perfectly executed in all of its complexities. It simply must be seen.