Eleven actors from Hamburg’s Thalia Theater and Nederlands Toneel Gent assemble in a line in front of a vast dark metal set. Illuminated from below by the stark lights of individual music stands, they then blend not only All Quiet On The Western Front, Under Fire and contemporary letters from soldiers on the front lines of the First World War, but also German, French, Flemish and English, in a multilingual mix which director Luk Perceval describes as a “polyphonic performance”.
Bleak and harrowing, Front attempts to represent the horror of the war through a facade of detachment. Performers seldom interact with each other, instead facing the audience as the stories from both sides of the conflict unfold. Animated clouds part to reveal large projected images of combatants in the conflict, whilst dissonant sound effects are provided by Ferdinand Försch, who uses sheets of suspended metal and electronic instruments to create a hellish cacophony representing gunfire and gas attacks.
Undeniably powerful, Front’s unrelenting mood proves to be not only its strength but also its main sticking point. With a lack of variety in mood and a singular pace, it at times proves to be a strain on endurance, offering little in the way of respite. Though this is in keeping with its subject matter, it results in a theatrical experience which gives little room for emotional engagement and instead works best as a stark and unmoving memorial to the futility of war.