The Great War has been used as a metaphor for futility and sacrifice many times, but seldom with as powerful and mythic a poignancy as in Les Enfants Terribles’ The Trench.
Bert (Oliver Lansley) serves beneath the front, inching towards enemy lines as he digs out tunnels below the carnage raging above. Befriending young recruit Collins (Alfie Boyd), he is both separated from and immersed in the conflict, his newfound bond with the youthful Sapper and his thoughts of his wife and impending child at home compelling him to continue – and to survive.
Events transpire against Bert however, and he finds himself plunged into a subterranean nightmare where the fate of everything he holds dear flickers as precariously as a candle guttering in the dark.
Les Enfants Terribles have created perhaps their finest work to date here. Beautifully staged, The Trench blends physical theatre, puppetry and mime together with Lansley’s atmospheric rhyming script. This mix creates an otherworldly quality, which deepens as Bert finds himself trapped further and further below the earth.
Live music by singer songwriter Alexander Wolfe complements the piece perfectly, his haunting voice drifting like early morning mist over No Man’s Land. And Les Enfants’ trademark vaudevillian makeup is used to striking effect: the men are gaunt and hollow-cheeked; the faces of the already-dead.
As Bert completes his series of trials below and beyond the call of duty, it becomes painfully clear that The Trench can only end in one way. It is testament to Les Enfants’ creative power that this is handled so memorably and touchingly that the piece becomes not only a work of remembrance – but also a celebration of the strength of the human spirit.
The Trench is at The Pleasance until 27 August at 1310. Ticket details are available on the Fringe website.