Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Theatre Review : Each Slow Dusk

Chris Eldon Lee reviews Each Slow Dusk, currently being toured by Pentabus Theatre

This is the most powerful and poignant Pentabus play I have seen in a long time.

In the current welter of World War One reflections, ‘Each Slow Dusk’ shines brightly; casting fresh light on the fate of ordinary soldiers – like a flare over a battlefield.

It’s all in the writing. Rory Mullarkey’s script is awfully authentic. He’s dug deep to create frightening first hand accounts of the common soldiers’ lot and the utterly awful acts they had to do. The writing is haunting and horrible, yet stilling and compelling. I didn’t want to move a muscle.

We meet three terrified men, calmly facing up to going over the top. We hear their innermost thoughts. They share the same trench but they each talk directly to us – talking about themselves, almost historically, in the third person. There is a pitiful Captain, a mere schoolboy, made up to replace his dead officer; a wily old war hand, determined to stick to the drill to survive and grateful that army food is better than his home gruel; and a naïve farm lad, forced to fight by taunts of cowardice.

The characters are finely, but starkly, drawn. We hear their private passions and see them standing up to their terrible fate.  When the action comes, Mullarkey’s compelling descriptions of hand-to-hand combat are both ugly and understanding.  

In tight, economical words he draws us right into the cold-blooded fight. These are full-on descriptions of how to use a bayonet, and the redness of the rain after a grenade attack. They are all the more powerful delivered in the artisan auditorium of a village hall. 

At Snailbeach, the spell was broken by the vulgarity of the interval raffle but it certainly set the mood for the second half. If we found it hard to imagine ourselves in part one, we could certainly do so in part two.

A century has passed and a middle-aged woman is on a tourism trip to  the battlefield sites. She presents a super-scripted holiday slide show, which darkens as she recounts how the mud got to her too. She starts to do what we have just done…trying to imagine what it must have been like. Her initial flippancy subsides as the statistics mount; 6,000 men killed by one explosion – twice the death toll of 9/11. For the men of 1914 “the future is on hold”, and Mullarkey’s unspoken message to me was that we are facing similar uncertainties right now. 

With such wonderful words, much of the actors’ work is done for them. But director Elizabeth Freestone has them deliver their monologues modestly. They show great control over their ‘live ammunition’ and great compassion for those who sacrificed themselves.

There was an amateurishness about the technology of the show in such a cramped venue, but somehow that didn’t matter. The strength is in the script and the restraint with which it is delivered. And it was so good to see a play about the Great War which was far from blatant about whose side the traumatised troops were on.

If you only see one First World War play in these four years, this is the one.


For touring information go to