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The Trench
Published on Tuesday, 21 August 2012

5 stars (Critic's Choice)

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
1-11, 13, 15-22, 24, 26 Aug, 1:10pm-2:10pm, 2:45pm-3:45pm; 12, 27 Aug, 1:10pm-2:10pm; 14, 25, 31 Aug, 2:45pm-3:45pm; 23 Aug, 12:30am-1:30am, 1:10pm-2:10pm
Reviewed by Alasdair Lane

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

When depicting the unfathomably brutal warfare of the First World War, not everyone would think of incorporating live acoustic music and puppets. Most, you see, would feel that these elements may clash with the inherently bleak tone of such performances, and ultimately serve only to detract from the play. That majority, though, will be dramatically proved wrong upon viewing The Trench. The newest show from Les Enfants Terribles is truly an engrossing and horrifying watch, which delves deep into the psychological cost paid by so many on the Western Front - and will leave you shaken to your core long after the lights dim.

Telling the story of a British World War One miner who becomes entombed in his subterranean trench, a claustrophobic tone of inescapable dread seethes from a bleak (yet incredibly versatile) set, dominated by blacks and greys. The abject terror of those French killing fields is, of course, far from unexplored territory when it comes to theatre.  So if it’s to really touch an audience, such that the enormity of the onstage events only truly hits home after the curtain falls, a drama needs to be innovative in its scope.

This is where The Trench truly excels. In the wake of his entrapment and suffering the news of his wife and unborn child’s death, our hero (heart-wrenchingly portrayed by an enthralling Oliver Lansley) encounters a beast stalking the tunnels, and embarks upon a supernatural quest for redemption. The writing is astounding. Never before have I been so moved by onstage endeavours, as the troupe explore the devastatingly tragic psychological cost of war. The acting is simply sublime too; Lansley engrosses his audience, with every shred of fear, disgust and anguish felt in the stalls, and the supporting actors are equally impressive, delivering the plot in poetry and capturing a hauntingly mystical tone.

Turning to the more original dimensions to the performance, the puppets proved themselves every bit as capable as their animate counterparts. They capture the robotic nature of a Great War soldier in a way a human would truly struggle to do, as well as the demonic sways and swoops of the monsters. Their inclusion proved an inspired directorial move indeed.

And then there was the exceptionally atmospheric acoustic strums of Alexander Wolfe. Though at first a live musician felt a tad out of place in such a viscerally visual performance, it soon became clear that the cracklings of PA system would not have been able to capture the beautifully tragic moments achieved by Wolfe and his guitar.

The Trench could've have comfortably just been another excellent World War One drama, but that would've been too easy for a team as accomplished as Les Enfants Terribles. Instead, they took risks, used truly unique and original ideas, and employed all their award-winning knowledge. The result? A masterpiece.

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