A touring production of The Wipers Times, by Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and panellist on Have I Got News For You, and Nick Newman, writer and cartoonist, was at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre last week.
Their play is based on a true story. In the spring of 1916, a group of soldiers of the 24 th Division of the Sherwood Foresters, led by Captain Fred Roberts, discovered a printing press in the bombed out ruins of Ypres (Wipers to the men).
Roberts (played with a roguish twinkle by James Dutton) decides to use the press to print a newspaper for the troops on the front line. In this he is aided by his friend Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp), and by Sergeant Tyler (Dan Tetsell) a printer by profession.
The newspaper is a great success – with the troops. But it runs into trouble with some of the officers, who object to its subversive humour.
The two modern-day satirists bring out the comedy and pathos of this remarkable episode.
The play uses music hall routines to bring the narrative alive – as Oh What A Lovely War did many years ago. There’s a fine scene when the men are preparing to go ‘over the top’. They share a bottle of rum – which helps them cope with their anxiety and fear. Their speech is brave, wry, understated.
This is a touching show fuelled by empathy and an edgy nostalgia.