Constructed by Valentijn Dhaenens
The Pit at the Barbican

Valentjin Dhaenens Credit: Inge Lauwers
Valentjin Dhaenens Credit: Inge Lauwers
Valentjin Dhaenens Credit: Inge Lauwers

Valentjin Dhaenens's anti-war play SmallWaR, in which Valentjin Dhaenens plays all the parts, is set in a hospital ward dealing with patients injured in the First World War. A nurse wheels in a bed containing a video screen showing a wounded soldier who lost both his legs and arms in an explosion.

This is one of the victims of the war and some of what we see is derived from Dalton Trumbo’s novel Johnny Got His Gun. The end credits also cite other sources such as the letters and memoirs of those who served in wars and the reportage of the journalist Michael Herr. However the show itself seems centred on the First World War.

Behind the nurse and the bed is a huge screen in the corner of which is projected a ghostly telephone.

The man in the bed cannot speak. The only movements he seems to be able to make are the lids of eyes which occasionally blink. We hear his thoughts through speakers.

Periodically, there would be the dull ring of the telephone. A ghostly projection of the full body of the wounded man in a hospital gown would rise from the bed, walk across to the 'phone and, lifting the receiver, speak to a relative. This happens several times till there are three ghostly figures on the screen, one of whom reads a letter held by the nurse.

The nurse reflects on the war. When one of the ghostly figures seems to fit, she tells us about the changing attitude of medical practitioners to post traumatic stress disorder.

The show clearly sympathises with those who have suffered in war but simply reflecting (often very slowly) on the suffering does not necessarily engage our sympathies or give the show any dramatic tension. The elaborate video, set and sound design fill the space but seem to slow the action and add little to the story.

It is surprising how this show manages to make such an important subject seem so uneventful and repetitive.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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