SmallWar - reviews of 'poetic' multimedia show about war

Aug 6, 2014

Belgian theatre-maker's stark, gripping solo show explores the fall-out of war

Belgian theatre-maker Valentijn Dhaenens
What you need to know

One-man multimedia stage show SmallWar has opened at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. The show by experimental Belgian theatre-maker Valentijn Dhaenens (BigMouth) explores the physical and emotional impact of war.

SmallWar focuses on a WWI field nurse and the wounded soldiers she tends to, all played by Dhaenens using overlaid audio and video projections of himself. Gradually their stories expand to touch on conflicts from Attila the Hun to Afghanistan in 2007. Runs until 24 August. 

What the critics like

Despite its timing, this play is emphatically not a First World War commemoration, but "a sensitive, thoughtful and often beautiful response to the continuing suffering caused by war", says Charlotte Runcie in the Daily Telegraph. Dhaenens's writing is stark and poetic, and on stage he is grippingly unnerving in each of his roles.

It's "a terrific technical achievement" creating an atmosphere that's hushed and woozy, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. There's some extraordinary stuff, the best tying its softly spoken anguish to specific details, such as the history of the term post-traumatic stress.

This "disturbing, ghostly" piece is an extraordinary treatment of war, says Libby Purves on Theatre Cat. Dhaenens' brilliant and hypnotic presentation creates unease but the harsh focus on the private dreams and sorrows of the dying underlines the terrible pointlessness.

What they don't like

SmallWar explores religion, love and, most arrestingly, the "beauty" of killing. But all this reflection "doesn't really lead anywhere", says Theo Bosanquet on What's on Stage. And as impressive as the high definition video work is, it nevertheless becomes monotonous and the soldiers on screen reduced to little more than a grim chorus.

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