Originally staged at the Drum Theatre in Plymouth, Small War is written and performed by the Belgian theatre maker Valentijn Dhaenens. The play is developed from testaments given by participants in wars, ranging from Atilla the Hun to a soldier in the recent Afghanistan conflict and it adopts an unflinching approach to describing the human costs. Dhaenens appears live on stage as a female nurse tending to casualties of war. Behind him, we see him again on a screen as a limbless torso; he cannot speak, but we hear his thoughts and, then, rising from the bed, on another screen, we see and hear from four life size images of the same soldier, able bodied. It is a technically impressive feat to have Dhaenens interacting with up to five different images of himself. However, as might be expected from its sources, the language of the play is prosaic, with none of the poetry of, say, Brooke or Owen and monotone delivery backed by droning and repetitive music does not help to bring it to life. Even the technical virtuosity of the staging seems to add to the overall coldness of the piece. Perhaps the familiar message that war is ugly and brutal cannot be repeated too often, but, personally, I found this production too relentlessly depressing to be able to connect with it fully.
Performance date: 10 August 2014