|Sam Marlowe reviews The Wipers Times|
I never really did get the hang of French, despite being born just a whisper away from the Normandy Coast. I can read it reasonably well, and understand spoken French as long as it is delivered at a moderate pace, but my accent? C'est terrible!
So I had to smile this week at the news that the wonderful play, The Wipers Times, is currently receiving good reviews in the West End. The ability to 'keep on smiling' is the stuff that saved Great Britain in the First World War, and right now, across the globe, it seems in very short supply.
Wipers, in case you didn't know, was how the British soldiers pronounced Ypres, the Belgian town where in 1916, a Division of the Sherwood Foresters discovered an old printing press. Writing in The Times, critic Sam Marlowe tells us how Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson teamed up with their sergeant, a printer by trade, to produce a newspaper offering both 'solace and send-up' to the men in the trenches.
'It's... a bright, bouncy comic strip of a show,' says Marlowe, ' that raises a sincere salute to the soldiers for whom laughter was a vital psychological defence against the horrors of the conflict, and the onslaught of bombs, guns and gas.'
And even - perhaps especially at its silliest,' he adds, ' the play has a respect for its subject matter that is deadly serious and decidedly affecting.'
It's no surprise then that The Wipers Times was the subject of a BBC 'docudrama' by satirist and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and cartoonist Nick Newman back in 2013. The extended stage version directed by Caroline Leslie is at the Arts Theatre, WC2 until May 13.