This easy, affectionate and immersive play captivates the audience with its quick and docile humour. The Wipers Times, a newspaper named for the English mispronunciation of the French town Ypres, by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, demonstrates the comforting layers provided by a warm and, initially, light-hearted comedy. The authentic set allows one’s imagination to rest contentedly and without distraction from the main show. It provides ease of direction when the audience were faced with a side-act of comic advertisements created by the centre cast members as features of their satirical publication. The lights provide distinct focus to each gimmick while not smothering the narrators. The Wipers Times follows the valiant efforts of an army officer, the relaxed James Dutton, and his lieutenant, the eloquent Sam Ducane, as they create a marvellous, yet simple, provocation of thought which triggers a sense of unease among the frankly preposterous and hopeless upper ranks. Though the print is humorously cursed with too much poetry.
The Wipers Times, with its talks of media authenticity, tenderly mocks The Daily Mail’s ability to tell the truth. Whilst displaying a wise understanding for the need of an honest review of the war, it casts light upon our own current need for newspaper transparency in the era of fake news. If a front-line newspaper holds the ability to admit more truths than our own modern home-front papers, then perhaps there stems a deeper problem. Hislop and Newman create a parallel between the army officers’ lack of strategic knowledge and our own ignorance to the current political state.
The play broadcasts how the power of hindsight can provide an easy humour. The brazen exploitation of Churchill succeeds in finding a few chuckles, as does a mention of the nice river Somme, a venue the company are tragically transported to. Dutton finds his feet more and more as the war, and play, carried forward. He is supported by a tremendous cast who display grand singing skills that surpassed my expectations, although sometimes accompanied by unnecessary recorded sound. Together their lack of sophistication generates a level of understanding; sophistication is not necessary, nor recommended, during times of such peril. Indeed, its implementation would be unfortunate and hurtful to morale. With the blanket wrapped heavily around the audience, we too are swept up by a state of ease, a light and genuine laughter. Although there is more success sometimes found in states of quiet, reactive humour, the overt and simplistic comedy shows a deeper knowledge of desperation for naive happiness.
However, as the play goes forth into the ends of the war, it takes a darker turn. The company can no longer hide from the front line, and even as the war draws its close, they can find no comfort in its ending. It finishes with an uncertainty for the future which echoes our own vulnerability as Europe again finds itself in a state of apprehension. We learn that feigning, or more accurately curating, a juvenile blind eye is not a permanent answer.
The Wipers Times is playing Arts Theatre London until December 1. For more information and tickets, click here.