A review of the New Wolsey Theatre matinee performance, 9th November 2016
The Wipers Times is a new play (based the TV drama of the same name) created by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman and apart from calling it a wonderful watch putting into words what I saw on the stage is proving very difficult.
The original Wipers Time newspaper was the brainchild of two officers serving on the front-line who realised that perhaps the best way to survive the horrors of the war was to do so by making them comical. Their newspaper was written and printed by men actually serving in the trenches rather than those sitting behind desks behind the lines or back in Blighty. It was a firm favourite with the men and and a thorn in the side of those officers bravely fighting the war from their desks a long way from any bombs…
The comic scenes of the men writing the articles (these would start by simply being read and turn into action scenes upstage or shown as full vaudeville acts) were interspersed with scenes from behind the lines in staff HQ, the men on leave in France and the bittersweet moments of home leave or letters. Then there were also the scenes of the men in the trenches waiting for the big pushes – the Somme and 3rd Battle of Ypres for example.
I found the play managed to show the absurdities and horrors of war very effectively without ever feeling as if it was playing with my emotions, it was sad at times but overall very uplifting.
I’ve seen the play described as a cross between Blackadder Goes Forth and Oh! What a Lovely War but I did also see a hint of Journey’s End in there – it wasn’t all comedy.
Some of the lines, puns and jokes were terrible and were signposted a mile off but these weren’t necessarily the lines from Hislop and Newman and neither were the lines about press accuracy interestingly enough.
What I found the most interesting about this play however was how much the later World War One satires such as Blackadder owed to the Wipers Times even if this was unintentional and they knew nothing about the paper.
All of the original editions of the Wipers Times newspaper were reprinted in a facsimile edition and you can borrow this from Norfolk’s Libraries but I really do hope that this play will return to the stage soon – it has an important story to tell.