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Unicorns, Almost

Owen Sheers
The Story of Books
Army @ The Fringe in Association with Summerhall
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The story of Keith Douglas, who is arguably the greatest British war poet of the Second World War, is one that surprisingly is little-known. Whilst names like Sassoon and Owen roll off the tongue of almost any English class student, his story even now is relatively obscure. But The Story of Books production of Owen Sheers' play aims to bring that life into sharp focus, as we learn about the man and his experiences in Africa, France and at home.

Dan Krikler's slightly world-weary performance as Douglas keeps in mind the exuberance of the man who stole a truck to get away from a desk job behind the lines and in some ways could barely wait to get back to the war after Dunkirk, the insistent and ardent but distracted lover who laments the lack of poets for this new conflict to match those of the Great War. He's a character as fascinating as he is relatable and Krikler presents him as never less than wholly realised.

Sheers is no stranger to war, as much of his work as a playwright has focused on soldiery and the military. Bringing Unicorns Almost to the stage feels like a grounding of many aspects of his work to date. Douglas's story feels human, while never losing the poetic language in his story, hinted at frequently, but only laid out in full force to devastating effect towards the close. This is a maturity that speaks volumes of him as a playwright and a poet. It also gives solid credit to the direction of John Retallack, who keeps Krikler spinning like a dervish from spot to spot across the stage; the very embodiment of his need to express himself and his frustrations about the war and his work.

It's a beautifully realised play, which hammers home the beauty of artistry pulled from horror and misery and by the strange minds who wield it. Endlessly intriguing, while Douglas wrote that we should "simplify" him in death, this play does anything but, rather it exemplifies him in posterity.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan