Edinburgh Fringe 2016: All Quiet On the Western Front


The Cast from Incognito

Pleasance Courtyard

Aug 18-29
1 hour
Incognito. Edinburgh Fringe 2016

This year’s centenary of the Battle of the Somme makes this revival of “All Quiet On The Western Front” particularly timely, drawing attention as it does to the horrors and sacrifices endured by German soldiers during the Great War of 1914-18 – and, by implication, to those of the French and British. Based on the book “Im Westen nichts Neues”, first published in book form in German in January 1929, translated into English and made into a film in 1930, it was instrumental in helping to establish the image of the War which has endured to this day. Douglas Haig, Commander – in – Chief of British and Commonwealth forces 1915-18, had been given a hero’s funeral in Westminster Abbey in January 1928, but within a year of his death the foundations of his later reputation as “Butcher Haig” were beginning to be laid. R.C. Sheriff’s “Journey’s End” was premiered in December 1928. A full edition of Wilfred Owen’s poetry followed in 1931, and Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth” in 1933. Popular attitudes to the War would never be quite the same again.

Incognito’s production opened with the famous scene of the teacher exhorting his pupils to volunteer, “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori” in defence of the Fatherland – a timely reminder that most Germans believed themselves to be fighting a defensive war against Russia. After all, Russia, France’s ally, had been the first country to mobilise and had invaded Germany in August 1914. Disillusionment set in quickly as the true nature of the fighting became apparent. The five actors conveyed this with total conviction. Soap boxes were the only props. The use of the small stage space was ingenious with careful choreography. Lighting and sound effects were highly effective. It must have been physically exhausting for the actors when responding to the frequent barrages of machine guns, shells and shrapnel. The scene when Paul returned home on leave was especially moving. Two of the actors proved convincing mimics of Irish and Scouse (I think) respectively.

The similarities between this play and “Journey’s End ” are striking. Written from German and British perspectives within a few weeks of each other, they have done much to cement the “Futility of War” as the enduring image of 1914-18, a War which will surely come to be seen by future generations as a European Civil War. A viewing of this production is strongly recommended.

Five stars

Reviewed by Joe Ward

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