The Wipers Times

Malvern Theatres


Private Eye editor and Have I Got News For You team captain Ian Hislop understands only too well what it takes to get out a satirical magazine under pressure.

Whether he would want to do it while facing the onslaught of a German war machine in World War One is another matter.

Hislop’s background has obviously gravitated him towards this real-life story of British soldiers who created a satirical pamphlet - The Wipers Times - from the trenches of Ypres, the Somme and other battlefields during World War One.

He has created a masterful, moving and also very funny play with fellow writer Nick Newman that does justice to those who never received recognition for their journalistic work.

The play moves between drama and musical hall style song and dance routines to depict comedy written in The Wipers Times - Wipers was how British soldiers pronounced Ypres, where the newsletter first emerged due to happy circumstance with the discovery of a printing machine.

There’s plenty of historical content about this group of soldiers from the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters added with dramatic licence that makes you really care about the characters on stage. Through the well-crafted script, it’s also clear to understand why they needed humour to get them through such traumatic times.

James Dutton is an affable lead as Captain Roberts, the editor of the paper despite no journalistic background, while Sam Ducane also stands out as smearing humourless adversary Lieutenant Colonel Howfield. It’s an excellent cast all-round though.

At a time when we mark a century since the end of the Great War, this production seems as poignant as ever.

It seems unbelievable now that Hislop and Newman were originally told “no one was interested” in the World War One when they first pitched this idea over 15 years ago and thanks to their nose for a good story, they never gave up.

It’s a remarkable real-life story that is transferred into an even more riveting play using music and dance in a clever, humorous way.

Newsflash . . . . . You won’t want to miss this excellent thought-provoking show. At Malvern Theatres until Saturday, 22 September and at Birmingham Rep from 8 to 12 October.

Alison Brinkworth


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