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Not About Heroes review – engaging account of war poetry in the making

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Clwyd Theatre Cymru, Mold
Stephen MacDonald’s first world war piece dramatises Siegfried Sassoon’s creative impact on Wilfred Owen

Who knows what private nightmares were endured at Craiglockhart, the military rehabilitation centre established outside Edinburgh for the treatment of shell-shocked officers during the first world war? Pat Barker made a brilliant surmise in the first novel of her Regeneration trilogy, which principally focused on Siegfried Sassoon’s relationship with his therapist, WH Rivers.

Sassoon’s fellow war poet and fellow patient Wilfred Owen was a tantalisingly peripheral figure in the novel; the inconspicuous, unpublished son of a railwayman who hesitantly approached the more established writer to express admiration, in return for the occasional poetry workshop. Stephen MacDonald’s intimate two-hander, first produced in 1983, is a deft illustration of the process by which the protege rapidly came to eclipse the master, while suggesting that Sassoon’s emendations to Owen’s work may have been his own most significant literary achievement.

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