Review: The Wipers Times (Opera House, Manchester)

The Wipers Times   ©  Philip Tull
The Wipers Times
© Philip Tull
Guest Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Set in the mud-ridden trenches of Northern Flanders an unlikely band of soldiers stumble upon a printing press amongst the bombed-out ruins of Ypres. Here, the Wipers Times is born.

The play opens with the paper’s editor Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton), who is struggling to find a job in post-war Fleet Street. However, The wealth of the narrative follows Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp) of the 12th Battalion, who head the infamous paper.

The paper wasn’t concerned with the words of so-called ‘war experts’. Instead, they offered their readers a cocktail of satire, parodies, poems, spoof advertisements and cartoons -perfectly illustrating that humour is a relief to anyone, even in their darkest times. When you think of the First World War images of death, destruction and ruin come to mind, not of the humanity and humour of the men who fought in it. Refreshingly, this play gives another face to the First World War, a perspective I haven’t witnessed before.

Long-time collaborators Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have already made an award-winning television film in 2013 from this story; here, they deliver a thoroughly-researched production punctuated with facts. As editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, it’s clear to see why Hislop was attracted to the story.

Caroline Leslie’s direction allows for scenes to seamlessly alternate between that of military attack to a music-hall comedy sketch. Dora Schweitzer’s design merges the confines of the trenches and barbed wire fence to create a light-up frame to host the paper’s vaudevillian sketches.

The narrative was carried by a stand-out cast who had undeniable chemistry. Dutton and Kemp particularly shone, leading their cast expertly and readily filling the theatre with laughter. It’s clear to see why Dutton has attracted the attention of prestigious awards such as WhatsOnStage’s Best Newcomer. Dutton and Kemp are absolute delights who have a clear command over comedy – I look forward to seeing what they do next.

I genuinely liked this production. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the venue of Manchester’s Opera House was ill-suited for it. For such a unique tale of an extraordinary situation and characters, I found the venue was too large and overshadowed the story, diluting the warmth and feeling from the audience before they had a chance to receive it.

Whilst the puns are one of the main driving forces in this production, the jokes eat away at time which could have been spent on character development. There are truly touching moments amongst the mockery, such as a young officer writing a poem dedicated to his friend who has been killed in action.

The story progresses without escalating into powerful drama – I believe a conscious choice, but one many may not expect from a play about the First World War. Our characters seem to only exist within the confines of the war, which many may not like, however, I don’t see too much of an issue with this. After all, once the war was over, the paper ceased to exist.

Rather sadly, the audience learns that the editors of the Wipers Times were forgotten. Hislop, Newman, the cast and crew have ensured that this will no longer be the case. God bless the piss takers.

-Elise Gallagher

The Wipers TImes runs at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 4th November 2017

REVIEW – Noises Off (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)

© Ian Tilton
© Ian Tilton
Date: 13 june 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

Noises Off, written by Michael Frayn, takes us behind the scenes to witness the backstage shenanigans of a shambolic theatre company. With less than twenty-four hours to go until their opening night of ‘Nothing On’ everything that can go wrong, is going hopelessly wrong. When the play opens the cast are in the throes of their dress rehearsal…or is it their technical rehearsal…nobody really seems to know. However, one thing is for certain – there are plenty of laughs in this chaotic and hilarious comedy about this dysfunctional theatre company.

Director David Thacker pulls out all the stops in his final production as artistic director at Bolton’s Octagon. After six years at the helm he is leaving to take up the prestigious position of Professor of Theatre at the University of Bolton enabling him to ‘engage with new generations of talent’ while still continuing to direct two productions, as Associate Artistic Director, each season for the Octagon.

Designed by Ruari Murchison, the intricacy of the set is highly impressive and the scene changes even more so. The play runs for just over 3 hours which includes two 25 minute intervals during which the backstage crew completely switch the set around. Although these set changes may seem slightly excessive, many of the audience seemed to enjoy watching the production crew turn the stage around so quickly. Also, considering the themes of the play it was very apt that the audience were able to have a glimpse into the real-life workings of a theatre and all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

The cast of nine all bring high energy and impeccable timing to the stage with notable performances from Jessica Baglow (Poppy), Colin Connor (Freddy), Paula Jennings (Brooke), Barbara Drennan (Belinda), James Quinn (Tim) and James Dutton (Garry), Charlotte Cornwell (Dotty) and Alan Taylor (Selsdon). Philandering and harassed Director Lloyd Dallas, played by Rob Edwards attempts to get the show on its feet despite Dotty’s missing sardines, Selsdon’s drunken antics and doors that stick or won’t close properly.

Noises Off has all of the trademarks of a superb British farce, providing the perfect closure to the Octagon’s theatre season and David Thacker’s position within it. There is certainly a lot to enjoy in this classic comedy and judging by the laughter in the auditorium on the night I attended, it’s a big hit with the Bolton audience too.


-Kristy Stott

 Noises Off runs at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton until 4 July 2015. 

Notable dates include: Meet the Director and cast Monday 29 June and Investigate Day (a full day event around the themes and issues of the play) on Saturday 27 June. There is an Audio Described performance on Wednesday 24 June, British Sign Language performance on Thursday 11 June, and Captioned Performance on Thursday 2 July.