Thanks to Jenny for organising this little outing on 2 November.
Ian Hislop and Nick Newman had already made a TV film from the story of how a satirical newspaper was produced by frontline soldiers in the first world war.
This stage version is currently touring the country. Details here.
Here are some extracts from Michael Billington’s Guardian review:
The story is framed by the spectacle of the paper’s editor, Fred Roberts, struggling to find a job in post war Fleet Street. The bulk of the action shows Roberts and his fellow officer Jack Pearson deciding to set up a paper while stationed at Ypres. “A bit like the Daily Mail?” says someone. “I was thinking of something rather more accurate,” replies Roberts. That feels like an anachronistic barb, since the Wipers Times was less concerned with news than with offering a Punch-like mixture of jokes, parodies, poems and cartoons that would capture the rumbling resentment of the common soldier with a cosseted high command and the facile optimism of fireside patriots.
Hislop and Newman give us generous helpings of quotes from the original paper, ram home the point that humour is what separates civilisation from incivility and come up with much intriguing information: it’s astonishing to discover that Michelin really did set out to provide a guide to the battlefields during the war and that Lloyd George claimed that drunkenness posed a bigger threat to the troops than that of Germany or Austria.
The difficulty is striking the right balance between the epic futility of the war and its countervailing humour. Caroline Leslie’s skilfully staged production tends to alternate scenes of military attack with music-hall interludes. The show makes its point about the redemptive power of laughter and the insolent bravery of its journalist heroes.
There is a touch of public-school camaraderie about the relationship between James Dutton’s Roberts and George Kemp’s Pearson that, appropriately, since RC Sherriff contributed to the Wipers Times, put me in mind of Journey’s End. Both actors are very good and there is strong support from Dan Tetsell as the ever-practical sergeant, Sam Ducane as the paper’s main antagonist and Peter Losasso as a hapless private. The show recounts an extraordinary story without escalating into powerful drama but offers a salutary message: that, even in war, blessed are the piss-takers.
There’s another review here.
This was an excellent evening, including a pre theatre meal at Carluccio’s, just a few metres away from my old employer’s offices. I expect I’d know it well if I was still working, but these days trips into Manchester City Centre are few and far between.
A very entertaining production despite the wartime backdrop. Commended.