Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s play finally makes it way to the stage, after a 2013 detour into a film for television. The play tells the story of the Wipers Times, a publication made in the trenches of the First World War, edited by Captain Fred Roberts.
The chance find of an old printing press, coupled with a sergeant who was in printing during his civilian life, led to the production of a satirical magazine, full of trench humour, pastiche and the ubiquitous poetry. All of this takes place under the heavy shelling from the German trenches and the ever-looming threat of the ‘Big Push’.
In spite of this, and in line with the content of the Wipers Times, the play is packed full of fun and humour from start to finish. The writing of the play makes the subject matter seem fresh so even though it is set 100 years ago, the play has an allegorical feel.
The Arts Theatre is a great setting for the piece (although space is limited so be first in the queue for the bar or the loo or face a long wait). Unfussy, good sightlines and an intimate feel, the theatre really is a gem in the west end, able to support smaller, touring productions. The company all work well together, with a good rapport and chemistry that is important for comedy but also helps to emphasize the camaraderie of soldiers at the front.
While all should be commended for their roles in bringing the production to the stage, the applause should be reserved for Captain Roberts and his unit. Men who went through the worst horrors mankind has ever known, but found the comedy and used it to alleviate the situation. Through a mixture of lampoon, parody and good old-fashioned taking the piss, the legacy left to use by these soldiers, is one for all time.