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Sounding a bell for those who 'died as cattle'

In little over an hour, this aims to outline the human story of the First World War through the emotive and richly colourful poems of Wilfred Owen.

It’s a tall order but writer-director David Fletcher has applied a powerful and stately eloquence to the vivid horrors of a dreadful conflict. They are brought to life in a provocative studio drama format where the sheer confrontational effect makes the messages ring out loudly and clearly.

As part of a mini-season commemorating the centenary of the Armistice, the piece picks up Owen’s theme that his poetry is in the pity of war and turns it about so that the pity is in the poetry.

Four women and three men deliver the words with mighty compassion, but the lion’s share is, perhaps inevitably, with the males. They have to describe – ‘re-live’ – the horrors of the trenches, the mud, the bullets, the shells. And they do so with burning conviction. Henri West agonisingly delivers in a tour-de-force performance the plight of the severely disabled soldier in a wheelchair, bitterly assessing the future he has lost.

Sean Glock and Martin Cosgrif boldly and brilliantly convey the camaraderie, the fears and rigours of the battlefield, a world to which they sense they have been committed and abandoned, the irony of their existence compounded by empty reassurances from afar by the likes of General Sir Douglas Haig.

Intensive stuff indeed, but there could be room for an occasional shading of humour. Not light relief, just a pointer to some of the inner fortitude in such men which, in drama terms, would make their ordeals still more poignant to an audience.

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