The Wipers Times

Even amid the horror and carnage of the First World War, relief could be found in humour, shared by the resourceful soldiers who produced The Wipers Times.

Their monthly publication, bearing the name commonly used for Ypres, was a welcome tonic in a hellish environment.

The Trademark Touring and Watermill Theatre production, directed by Caroline Leslie, at Salisbury Playhouse this week, won a well deserved standing ovation on Monday.

The terrifying din of battle, the ever-present mud and the prospect of imminent death cannot quench the resolve of men whose perceptive wit gleams amid snippets of vaudeville. In the void between refuge in the trench and the tumult of warfare, incisive wit ensures laughter, on and off stage. Playwrights Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have brought the real events of a century ago into sharp focus.

The discovery of an abandoned printing press, and paper, in war-devastated property, offers opportunity to relieve boredom and deprivation by maintaining a barrage of black humour to lift spirits.

If some staff members lacked the ability to appreciate jokes, they failed to suppress publication. The Wipers Times survived until the Armistice, and achieved an eventual print run of 1,000. James Dutton as Captain Roberts and George Kemp as Lieutenant Pearson edit the satirical publication, which was printed by the resourceful Henderson (Kevin Brewer).

Other members of the accomplished cast are Eleanor Brown, Sam Ducane, Peter Losasso, Dan Tetsell and Jake Morgan.

Superb design and evocative music, including some impressive choruses from the period, accentuate the impact of the play.

The Wipers Times endorses the importance of the printed word in lightening dark, dangerous times.

This production, a valuable contribution to the current commemoration of The Great War, reflects credit on all concerned. Musical director is Paul Herbert; composer is Nick Green. It runs until Saturday.

Stella Taylor