The Trench

Oliver Lansley
Les Enfants Terribles
Pleasance Courtyard

The Trench

I first saw Les Enfants at the Fringe back in 2007 when it, though still and enfant company, was already becoming a Fringe regular. It has now become an acclaimed touring company with funding, and so this year's Edinburgh show, which actually premièred at last year's Fringe, is on a scale that they could only have dreamed of six years ago.

The Trench tries to do with the First World War what the film Pan's Labyrinth did for the Spanish Civil War, mixing fantasy elements with the harsh, violent, inhuman conditions of the battlefield.

While trying to tunnel under the enemy trenches, Bert becomes trapped underground. A strange creature offers him salvation if he completes three trials—or perhaps this is all a hallucination as he drifts closer to death.

The production is visually stunning, as anyone who has seen previous Terribles shows would expect, but on a larger scale than most previous productions. The blending of narrators, live actors, puppets, shadow images and video projections creates a richly-textured stage picture, enhanced by music and the mournful Radiohead-type vocals of Alexander Wolfe performed live from the side of the stage.

The attention to detail from directors Oliver Lansley—who wrote the script—and James Seager is as meticulous as when the shows were smaller. The way objects come together to create larger objects or even huge puppet creatures is impressive and very satisfying.

The other strong link with earlier shows from this company that I have seen is that it is solidly based in old-fashioned storytelling. There is very little dialogue, instead using a constant narration shared between several performers in rhyming iambic pentameter. This can be a little stilted or indulgent at times, and it is easy to lose concentration with the regular, sing-song rhythms and miss some of the story.

My main issue is with this story, which, if you strip away the amazing production and the versification, doesn't say anything new or unexpected. The idea of the three trials, one of which is a riddle and one a test of selflessness, is as old as the hills. The rest of the story is rather thin and predictable.

But whatever the deficiencies in the script, the production itself is a masterclass in fully-integrated theatre, combining many different disciplines into a beautifully-realised whole, with great performances from all of the cast, so is well-worth seeing.

Reviewer: David Chadderton