Location: Northern Stage Newcastle
Date: 4.10.17, 2pm (matinee performance)
Sometimes you just know something is going to be good before it happens. As I went to sit down before the start of the performance I noticed that the seat allocated to me had a small plaque on the back bearing the name of much loved local broadcaster and presenter Mike Neville MBE.
The Wipers Times by Ian Heslop & Nick Newman is based on a true story. Set during the First World War, amidst life in the trenches, two officers decide to create a newspaper upon the discovery of a printing press. No ordinary newspaper was this to be though, instead a satirical funny and subversive paper was to be produced to entertain the troops. The Wipers Times (named because of the mispronunciation by British soldiers of the Belgian town of Ypres where they were based) has been described as laugh a minute whilst maintaining the sensitivity and the respect that the subject warrants.
The stage was on the right side of dark and with sounds of enemy bombardment overhead and dust and debris coming from above it creating the eerie atmosphere of the ever present danger of what life in the trenches must have been like.
Peppered with music hall style song dancing and singing and with jokes coming through thick and fast it certainly lived up to its very theatrical description.
From laughing along with the problems they had with the publication, ranging from not having enough letter E’s to print the words they wanted to and the top Brass venting their disapproval of it all (they were of course the butt of many of the papers jokes) to the lump in my throat at the poignant moments, we followed The Wipers Times journey as it's popularity and readership increased even reaching outside of the trenches and people back home. It was published for two years, had 23 issues and only stopped shortly after the news came through of the amnesty, the war and the paper was over.
The cast of ten (some playing more than one character) filled the stage wonderfully at all times with their individual personality, particularly the very expressive faces which kept the feeling of warmth and humour throughout
Near the end of the show I heard a kerfuffle in the row behind me and a woman's voice could be heard loudly shouting expletives and getting angrier and angrier. I got the impression that she was unhappy with someone sitting behind or in front of her. It got to the point that I thought we may have to leave our seats and take cover but the staff soon came over and handled the situation very well with minimal disruption to the audience and the actors on stage seemed unaware of what was happening.
I really enjoyed this show. It was a story that I'd not come across before so as well as being extremely interesting it was a great mix of fun and entertainment all round whilst never forgetting the human side...that these men chose and managed to maintain humour and mirth during such harrowing and worrying times
The Wipers Arms is currently touring the UK directly from a record breaking West End run. It runs at Northern Stage until 7th October. If you can, go see it, you won't be disappointed
Cast (in alphabetical order)
Nurse/Madame Fifi/Lady Somersby
Lieutenant Colonel Howfield
Deputy Editor/General Mitford/Sergeant Tyler