‘The greatest moral evil is, of course, war‘ (Voltaire, 1694 – 1778).
The 21st Century is proving to be a global playing field of endless military conflict. Beginning with the US/UK-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001; Iraq in 2003; and the same nations intervening in Libya, 2011; and at different times in Syria, it seems death and destruction only serve to whet the appetite of these misguided transgressors.
Given it is the remit of democratic nations to start and maintain military intervention, what better time for a theatrical retelling of World War I, the global conflict foolishly nicknamed the ‘War to End All Wars’.
Incognito Theatre Company, and its uncanny grasp of historical events, has done just that in revisiting Erich Maria Remarque’s acclaimed 1929 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, an epic work that continues to be adapted for film (1930, 1979) and in numerous television series transcending the 20th Century.
With its ingenious pluck and poetic physicality, Incognito’s production of All Quiet on the Western Front retells the story of German high-school mates who join the army voluntarily after hearing the stirring tales of adventure, heroism and glory that are gifted to soldiers fighting at the Front for the Fatherland. It’s all lies, of course, but deadly effective.
These teen lads are neither nationalists nor blood-thirsty aggressors and, naively, may think an army enlistment will offer them the opportunity to maintain their beloved high-school camaraderie. They soon find themselves in claustrophobic trenches, infested with rats, dodging sniper bullets and bombs, tired, filthy, hungry and dehumanised.
Although Remarque’s novel focused on one soldier’s predicament, Incognito’s All Quiet on the Western Front gives an equal focus to each of its characters. This may be the natural progression of the physicality and support required between the play’s cast members, which gives potent sway to the concept of physical theatre.
Their treacherous journey from village safety into war-torn territory is conveyed as a body ensemble that slips, falls, separates and regroups in a poetic mix of taut and rapid-jerk body movements. Like a tableau vivant, Incognito’s five-member cast stretch and contort to create knife-sharp impact images; frozen in time but with the power to disrupt consciousness.
Think of the famous photograph of marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, a freeze-frame of sacrifice, heroism, brotherhood and liberty – and you will have a sense of what this extraordinary troupe of actors is able to accomplish.
If there is one small flaw, it is that the cast – its verbal intonation, physical appearance and attitude to soldiering – is unequivocally British. It is a stretch of the imagination to consider them German schoolboys. But it is true to say that all fighting men must encounter the same disillusionment as do the young German soldiers in the play.
For a theatrical experience with startling images that will linger, don’t miss this play. All Quiet on the Western Front is the most inventive theatre you are likely to see this year.
Review by Loretta Monaco
“We were eighteen years old, and just learning to love the world and being in it, and then we had to shoot it to bits.”
Following an international tour, the multi-award nominated and award-winning Incognito Theatre Company return to VAULT Festival with their critically celebrated adaptation of Erich Remarque’s tale, exposing the harrowing reality of trench warfare.
Told through the eyes of five classmates, this adaptation is gripping and unyielding in its treatment of the visceral brutality of war, an honesty that lends itself to Incognito Theatre’s unapologetically explosive physical style. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ focuses on the harsh physical reality of this violent world from the perspective of the German forces, intercut with the vulnerability of human experience. An exploration of raw humanity and the power of brotherhood in the face of total bleakness, Incognito’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ exposes the personal sacrifices that were made for the sake of the Great War.
Director: Roberta Zuric,
Choreographer: Zac Nemorin
Producer: Hannah Wisher
All Quiet on the Western Front
3 – 8 Mar 2020