REVIEW: The Wipers Times at Chichester Festival Theatre

The First World War is no easy tale to tell when so many have been told before in so many ways.

Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, 9:26 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 11:18 am
The Wipers Times. Picture by Alastair Muir

But this play seemed to strike an untapped vein of history - a satirical newspaper which thrived in the harsh conditions of the trenches.

Co-written by Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and long-time collaborator Nick Newman, this was clearly a topic close to their hearts.

And while it was visually interesting and funny, their proximity to the subject blinded their editing eye to a play which was too long, too repetitive and too self-indulgent.

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If La La Land was the film industry patting itself on the back, this was the equivalent for journalism – and as a reporter myself, even I found it tiresome. Imagine your (admittedly funny) grandfather telling war stories you’ve heard a hundred times and pretending they’re news to you – that’s how I felt.

Unfortunately, no amount of jokes or creative flourishes like the live reenactments of the paper could resuscitate the flatlining plot. It repeated itself over and over – another paper gets published, the war continues, another edition gets published, and so on. The Wipers Times was meant to break the monotony of soldiers’ lives, but sadly the play had the opposite effect. I was crying out for some action.

This was teased when the paper’s printing press got blown up in the first act and another was discovered in a war-torn corner of the Western Front. I thought, finally – a hilarious rescue sequence. That lasted for all of two seconds when said press was pulled out of a bag and the cycle continued.

To give the cast their credit, this play was delivered with energy, pathos, comic timing and lots of heart without it becoming sappy.

And more importantly, it did make the audience laugh.

But I couldn’t escape the irony that this concept was much better on paper than it was in action.

Until November 25.