This year marks 100 years since the beginning of the First World War so it’s very close to people’s hearts as we remember it. The poignant poetry written during the First World War is very famous, particularly that of Wilfred Owen, and poetry is one of the themes in Poilu and Tommy.
Alfred (Gabriel Wood) and Charles (Jan Wood) are cousins who are flung together when they were young. Although related by blood, Alfred has been raised by his English father and Charles has grown up in Alsace with his sister Marie-Anne (Sėverine Masse). The three meet when Marie-Anne comes to be Alfred’s governess. Years later as soldiers (Poilu and Tommy), Alfred (Tom Grace) and Charles (Lula Suassana) are reunited in a cellar in war-torn France and their memories are rekindled and secrets spilled.
Written by Mick Wood, the concept of Poilu and Tommy is fantastic, as it not only shifts between past and present, but is told in English, French and German, which makes it far more realistic and clever. It probably helps if you have at least a vague understanding of French as you can appreciate the beauty of the poetry and the subtle humour in the script, but even if you only know English, the actors ensure that nothing is lost in the story.
The stage and setting is cleverly designed, with simple but effective props and director Natasha Wood uses the aisle of the auditorium to good effect. The scenes flow well, using the props of the present in the past and vice-versa – at the beginning of Act II Alfred the solider appears from under the table at which his relatives have just been eating. There are also some nice moments when the boys and men share the stage, adding a surreal but effective touch to the play.
The acting from each cast member is natural and sublime, interpreting the script perfectly. Jan Wood is a born actor and his movements and tone are perfect, especially when reciting poetry. Gabriel Wood does rush his lines slightly, but as his character is an excitable nine-year-old, it’s easily forgiven and his poetry reading is also delightful.
The boys’ older selves are perhaps not immediately recognisable, but the similarities are there and Grace and Suassuna capture the emotions of scared soldiers caught in a stolen moment very well. They also bring a light humour to the piece as they quibble over a bottle of wine.
Mick Wood has created a play that is as unique as it is emotive, combining personal battles with the horrors of war and the beauty of poetry, and the overall effect is mesmerising and a delight to watch.
Nous sommes parents par la Lune,
Le Pierrot Bergamesque et moi,
Car je ressens in pâle émoi,
Quand elle allaite la nuit brune.
Albert Giraud – excerpt A mon cousin de Bergame
Review by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Poilu and Tommy
1900. A French and an English boy find themselves living in a dilapidated manor house in the Home Counties. Charles is a would-be poète maudit. Alfred likes Kipling. They share an Alsacien governess with a tragic secret. Bored, struggling to communicate, their games take a dark turn. Spirits are invoked, shadows gather, forewarnings of a time when they will meet again, as young men caught up in the horror of the Somme.
20th, 21st, 22nd, 25th, 26th, 27th 28th February
1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th March
No performances Monday or Sundays
Tickets: £10 / £8 concessions
Ticket Web: 08444771000
The Courtyard Theatre, Bowling Green Walk
40 Pitfield Street, London N1 6EU
Monday 24th February 2014