After Alecky Blythe’s London Road proved that verbatim theatre could exist in musical form, 203 Theatre have hopped on the bandwagon for Untold Wars, but with far less success.
It claims to tell the untold stories of war. That’s misleading on two levels: the experiences of war photographers, female soldiers and veterans dealing with PTSD have been documented and dramatised in countless incarnations for years; and the idea that any aspect of the production is "untold" when it covers almost every single cliché in the English language is farfetched.
Line after line of “you are a hero” or “until there is peace on Earth” grates very quickly. The language is either heroising or harrowing, but always platitudinous in the extreme. There is no plot and no structure, instead a series of indistinguishable songs accompanied by stern expressions, actors looking gravely into the middle distance to highlight the serious message.
It sounds distressing too, not only from Emily Taylor’s uninspired music (one song is about counting down the days so, of course, there’s a descending piano bass line) but also from the long, loud gunshot noises that should come with a trigger warning.
Still, the choreography is great, with the cast throwing their bodies around and enacting a military-style assault course. The large stage becomes a gymnastics mat and is used to its full extent. And a solemn chant of "Dulce et Decorum est" is good, but Wilfred Owen’s done most of the work there.
Otherwise overwrought to the point of absurdity, there’s very little regard for scansion. Or pacing. Or originality. Or subtlety. It is its own parody.