By Chris Bond
Ted Hughes called it that “huge, senseless war” and during the past couple of years since the centenary marking its start, there have been a raft of films, exhibitions and documentaries examining the First World War.
Many have understandably focused on the death and carnage of the Western Front. But there has been little about the humour of life in the trenches – something The Wipers Times rightly challenges.
The play, written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, is based on the true story of a group of soldiers from the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters, led by Captain Fred Roberts, played with roguish aplomb by James Dutton, and his friend Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp), who discover a printing press in the bombed out ruins of Ypres (dubbed Wipers by the men).
They use the press to publish a satirical newspaper (The Wipers Times) for the men on the frontline, and the ensuing tale is a brilliant homage that combines music hall routines, pathos and doggerel and is by turns moving and laugh-out-loud funny.
In short, it’s an absolute triumph and if Pearson and Roberts were alive today I reckon they would be rather chuffed.