Fear in a Handful of Dust is currently showing at the CogARTS Space in Islington. It’s on until the 9th January and for any aficionados of Great War drama or literature it’s a must see. The title is taken from TS Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. In both the poem and here as the title of this spectacular play, it evokes connotations of the inevitability of death and the levelling nature of mans’ fear of his own return to dust, themes that are always worth revisiting, especially in the close confines of a Great War trench.
It’s 3rd September 1916 and trapped in a trench we find Simon, an Englishman raised in India, and Buck, a ‘trench-rat’ from Ireland. Through a night of fraught anxiety and stress, brought about by the proximity of the enemy and their incessant onslaught, Simon and Buck get to know each other and surprise themselves by the fraternal bond that quickly and irrevocably manifests. The space has been used to hard-hitting effect, and the audience are close enough to the crisis for the immediacy of the drama to provoke a massive emotional response. The chance meeting between a toff and one cocky individual from the working class cannon fodder, is an often told story and the end is somewhat predictable. This is immaterial however, considering the power of this rendition. Although something of a ‘check-list’ of what we learn at GCSE history about life in the trenches, it is so well executed that it jolts the audience with horror at a reality we have almost become desensitised to. It forces the viewer to take part in the dehumanisation of war, to feel the irrational superstitions, to share in the humiliation of nudity and the liberating exposure of the soul to one other person.
Most relevant to an audience of 2014, when fear has inspired unprecedented support for UKIP, is the reminder that British wars have been fought by people from all over the world; India, Ireland, Australia to name but a few contributors. It’s also a historically interesting detail to be reminded that Ireland was in an intense moment of struggle at this time – both fighting for independence on the home front and for freedom alongside the English on the European front. In the reality of imminent danger, Simon and Buck come to the unspoken realisation that their differing positions are of little relevance when compared with the power of empathetic humanity and shared human frailty.
Fear in a Handful of Dust is superbly produced, directed and acted. Jack Morris playing Simon and Henry Regan playing Buck are both exceptionally committed to their roles, their skill conveying the detailed discomfort of their situation. Their portrayal of two soldiers stuck at the Battle of Guillemont – the terror, the little triumphs, the moments of comedy, the love – is utterly convincing. Sevan K Greene’s script is beautifully written – watch out for Simon’s memory of elephants in India, a powerful narrative which re-transports the viewer away from the European front line of 1916 and into colonial India. This play is both simple in narrative structure and complex in its effect; sad and hopeful, tragic and comedic. It’s a perfect hour long exploration of human nature and I couldn’t recommend it more.
Review by Annemarie Hiscott
On the 3rd September 1916, Simon, an Englishman raised in India, and Buck, a ‘trench-rat’ from Ireland, are alone in the middle of the Battle of Guillemont. Trapped in a trench, one bleeds losing the threads of reality while the other must face the reality of the war. In order to survive the night they must learn not only to overcome the enemy, but also the stranger sitting next to them. The gritty and visceral reality of the trenches comes to life in this new play which examines how war exposes the humanity in a man, rather than the monster.
Cast and Creative Team
Buck – Henry Regan
Simon – Jack Morris
Written by Sevan K Greene
Directed by Jonny Collis
Set Design by Isa Shaw-Abulafia
Sound design and Lighting by Dan Cornwell
Costumes by Anne Stoffels
Not Suitable for under 14’s
“As a survivor of two wars myself, there is a shared empathy and understanding that moves across borders. It’s a bold and exciting move to have a playwright of ethnic origin writing about something so quintessentially British. I’m encouraged by the way the production team are approaching this project, and thrilled to be part of this new wave of London theatre.” Playwright, Sevan K. Greene
Saturday 6th December 2014 8pm – Friday 9th January 2015 at 8pm
Running Time: 70 minutes (approx.)
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