IN this year when the centenary of the end of the Great War is marked all over Europe and beyond, Frome Drama Club entered the list of concerts, art installations, talks, films, plays and more to mourn the lives of the millions who died and to celebrate their sacrifice with Stephen MacDonald’s 1982 Edinburgh Fringe play Not about Heroes.
Performed as part of the Frome Festival at the Assembly Rooms, you won’t see a finer or more heart-rending glimpse back to the reality of the WWI years than this.
It is the story of the friendship between the aristocratic Siegfried Sassoon (named for his mother’s love of Wagner) and the shy, provincial Wilfred Owen, who died just seven days before the Armistice was signed. Sassoon lived on and his body is buried in Mells churchyard, three miles from Frome.
They met in the Craiglockhart Hospital for Nervous Disorders, Sassoon already a patient in the officers wing, keener on his daily round of golf than fraternising. Owen, fighting his dreams and insecurities, was given the hospital magazine to edit. When he realised that his hero, Sassoon, was also a patient, he diffidently approached the established poet for inscriptions to his books.
So began a friendship that became central to their lives, and the inspiration that Owen needed to give him confidence in his own writing.
Dan Gaisford directs the play for FDS, using a simple set that intensifies the attention on the two men. Giles de Rivaz is the perfect Sassoon, suave, erudite, entitled and modest. Robert Billen’s capture of Owen’s initially stammering man who grows in assurance before our eyes is masterful.
I can’t imagine our greatest actors in our most famed theatres doing this indelible play better. See it in Frome if you possibly can, until 12th July at 8pm.