Wilfred Owen is an extremely influential poet whose politically controversial words about World War One were written during his time in the army and in hospital after suffering injuries during battle. Many of his poems, such as ‘Anthem For The Doomed Youth’ and ‘Dulce Decorum Est’, have shaped some of our modern attitudes towards war, and his legacy endures. Bullets and Daffodils shows how much his poems have affected and inspired people; it’s a musical based on his poems, and the true story of his and his family’s troubled lives. An ensemble comprising one actor, an interpretive dancer, a singer and a man with a guitar (adding the genre of country music to the mix), and Director Christopher Timothy, have come together to attempt to touch and move the audience with the pain that soldiers and their families feel in a modern interpretive way, not all in traditional musical form.
Reading the description of this play, it sounds moving and an experience that surely wouldn’t disappoint; what could be wrong with taking a powerful poet’s words and turning them into a theatrical piece? The excitement and intrigue would make any lover of literature or somebody with a view on the subject of war want to see it. Adventurous it was, although I’m not sure this play was built to its full potential. It did intrigue, but not to the point where you are wondering what will happen next. Rather, the intrigue came from confusion over what was happening at the present moment and maybe even from a touch of shock.
In a plain black box theatre with only a step for the set, Lindsay Field steps out in peculiar patterned leggings and what looks like a green and black overall. I dismissed her solo song (which had no range) and expected that this was the prologue to introduce us to the play – and that some action would begin. Two more people walk on. Chloe Torpey can act, we’ve got to give her credit. However I ceased to empathise due to the fact that I was distracted by Charlotte Roberts’s fascinating and baffling interpretive dancing. I am sure the dancing had a message to portray but the audience made no stir. This interpretive physical theatre persisted throughout the play, and it mainly consisted of pushing each other back and forth, unusual finger tapping and few attempts to see how high a leg could be lifted.
This production certainly had a shock factor. When Dean Johnson walks out with an acoustic guitar you hope he’ll add some flavour, and we’re given the feeling that we’ll definitely never watch a play like this again. I sat through this play in deep analytical thought about the director’s rehearsal methods and what mysterious ideas travelled through his head when putting this unconventional piece together.
On another long list of positives about this play, it is under an hour long, so the sun will still be shining when you leave.
Bullets and Daffodils is playing at The Tristan Bates theatre until 6 July 2013. For more information and tickets, see The Tristan Bates Theatre website.