The Wipers Times Critics & Reviews
“Laugh a minute” Mail on Sunday ****
“Remarkable forerunner to Private Eye” Daily Telegraph
**** “Even – perhaps especially – at its silliest, the play has a respect for its subject matter that is deadly serious and decidedly affecting” The Times*****
“Quite magnificent” Libby Purves, TheatreCat *****
“Wonderfully theatrical” WhatsonStage
The Wipers Times review – Ian Hislop salutes satirical wartime newspaper
Hislop and Nick Newman’s play explores the extraordinary real-life story of how a Punch-style publication was set up by troops during the first world war Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have already made an award-winning TV film from the story of how a satirical newspaper was produced by frontline soldiers in the first world war. Now comes the stage version and it retains its fascination, even if it feels over-extended at two and a half hours and is inevitably overshadowed by memories of Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War.
The story is framed by the spectacle of the paper’s editor, Fred Roberts, struggling to find a job in postwar Fleet Street. The bulk of the action shows Roberts and his fellow officer Jack Pearson deciding to set up a paper while stationed at Ypres. “A bit like the Daily Mail?” says someone. “I was thinking of something rather more accurate,” replies Roberts. That feels like an anachronistic barb, since the Wipers Times was less concerned with news than with offering a Punch-like mixture of jokes, parodies, poems and cartoons that would capture the rumbling resentment of the common soldier with a cosseted high command and the facile optimism of fireside patriots.
I would have liked to hear more about a wily sergeant who seemed able to conjure up manually operated printing presses in the midst of bombardment. It would also be good to know whether opposition to the paper was confined, as here, to a single officer who saw it as an “incitement to mutiny”, or whether there was a widespread animus from the brass hats. But Hislop and Newman give us generous helpings of quotes from the original paper, ram home the point that humour is what separates civilisation from incivility and come up with much intriguing information: it’s astonishing to discover that Michelin really did set out to provide a guide to the battlefields during the war and that Lloyd George claimed that drunkenness posed a bigger threat to the troops than that of Germany or Austria.
The difficulty is striking the right balance between the epic futility of the war and its countervailing humour. Caroline Leslie’s skilfully staged production tends to alternate scenes of military attack with music-hall interludes, whereas the genius of Littlewood was to present popular song and war’s brutal statistics in the same moment. But the show makes its point about the redemptive power of laughter and the insolent bravery of its journalist heroes.
There is a touch of public-school camaraderie about the relationship between James Dutton’s Roberts and George Kemp’s Pearson that, appropriately, since RC Sherriff contributed to the Wipers Times, put me in mind of Journey’s End. Both actors are very good and there is strong support from Dan Tetsell as the ever-practical sergeant, Sam Ducane as the paper’s main antagonist and Peter Losasso as a hapless private. The show recounts an extraordinary story without escalating into powerful drama but offers a salutary message: that, even in war, blessed are the piss-takers.By :
Michael BillingtonRef Link : The Guardian
6-7 Great Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JB
VIEW SEATING PLAN
: 6-7 Great Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JBCapacity:
The Arts Theatre opened in April 1927 with the intention of being a performance space for unlicensed plays. As a members-only club these works could be performed whilst avoiding the theatre censorship imposed by the government. It became known as a venue for shows that were not thought to be commercially viable. The building itself is rather attractive, with a period façade containing arched windows that pre-date the actual theatre. The theatre itself was designed by P Morley Horder who managed to create an intimate theatre in the basement without allowing it to feel claustrophobic – the clever design enables the theatre to feel larger than it actually is.
Whilst a subscriber-only house, the Arts Theatre did manage to produce some excellent productions that went on to find a larger audience, the first being Young Woodley by John Van Druten which transferred to the Savoy Theatre in 1928 once the theatre censorship had been relaxed.
The 1942 takeover by Alec Clunes and John Hanau saw the theatre produce over a hundred plays in a decade and gave the theatre the nickname of ‘The National Pocket Theatre’. A 1951 fire brought this series of plays to an end, with the auditorium needing to be rebuilt.
Ronnie Barker began a 13 year association with the Arts Theatre in 1955, making his West End debut here in a production of Mourning Becomes Electra, directed by Sir Peter hall. Hall took control of the theatre from 1956 to 1959.
The Unicorn children’s theatre took over the lease of the building in 1967 and remained there until 1999, allowing straight plays to perform in the evenings whilst giving the touring children’s theatre company a permanent London home during the day. It was during this time that Tom Stoppard’s plays Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land enjoyed a four year run from 1967.
The new millennium saw new leaseholders steer the theatre in a new direction, and it is now considered an independent commercial theatre, giving productions the opportunity to perform for up to twelve weeks, whilst still hosting cabarets, showcases and stand-up comedians.Seating
The auditorium has two levels – Stalls and Circle. It’s a very intimate space, so all patrons will feel close to the action. The Circle overhangs the Stalls from Row E.
The seating in the Circle is only lightly raked and does not offer as much legroom as those seats in the Stalls.Facilities At Arts Theatre
Seat plan: Arts Theatre Seat Plan
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
Tube lines: Piccadilly, Northern
Location: West End
Railway station: Charing Cross
Bus numbers: (Charing Cross Road) 24, 29, 176; (Strand) 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, 87, 91, 139
Night bus numbers: (Charing Cross Road) 24, 176, N5, N20, N29, N41, N279; (Strand) 6, 23, 139, N9, N15, N11, N13, N21, N26, N44, N47, N87, N89, N91, N155, N343, N551
Car park: Chinatown (3 mins)
Within congestion zone?: Yes
Directions from tube: (2mins) Take Cranbourn Street away from Leicester Square up to Great Newport Street on your left, where you can see the theatre.