The Trench is an evocative, claustrophobic tale of a soldier in World War I. The storytelling incorporates a variety of styles in order to conjure up the horror of being trapped underground, including verse, puppetry and live music. These are very effective, so much so that the play could have used less dialogue and been just as striking.
This mix of styles is very creative, although occasionally slightly odd. During the musical numbers it can feel like being at some sort of folk music concert. The music is poignant and beautiful: the first time the offstage harmonies come in it was chilling and ethereal. Alexander Wolfe plays numerous instruments, and sings with a fantastic gravelly voice that seems to embody all the elements of the play solely through music.
The puppetry, set and general staging is highly compelling. The puppeteers work well in creating the hallucinations and exuding their own personality. The simple set is used in a variety of ways to create an uneasy atmosphere, using planks of wood to crawl through the trenches and utilising backlighting and projections to enact visions or use silhouettes. The actors’ physical theatre was assured and expressive.
These elements were the most successful for me, using such a variety of movements, textures and sound to tell the story of one man’s experience. As it is such a personal story, the use of visual and aural techniques helps bring this to life even more, and I believe some of the words could have been dispensed with, as the methods already in place were so effective. The finale’s spectacular use of lighting and the change in music, along with the protagonist’s facial expressions, brought the story to an emotional, soaring climax. Although I can understand that the verse and narrative spoken-word style used throughout helps to flesh out the atmosphere, describing further the feelings, smells and other intangible elements but less would have been more. The starkness of the set and the simple one man band showed that minimalism worked in the other elements, so if this had been applied to the script as well, it could have been truly spectacular.