Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Fear in a Handful of Dust
Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Fear in a Handful of Dust
Ginger Hibiscus |REVIEW: Fear in a Handful of Dust
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15 Dec REVIEW: Fear in a Handful of Dust

Marking the centenary of the First World War, Fear in a Handful of Dust is a powerful new play currently showing at the COGArtspace that considers both the horrors and humanity of people at war. In an unusual move for a play about war, it diverts the focus away from the “action,” which happens entirely off stage. Instead, we meet two men who, for one reason or another, are, for a moment at least, sheltering in a trench away from the ongoing offensive. Far from the patriotic young Englishman that immediately springs to mind when someone talks about “the Great War,” fighting for king and country, the two characters are the Irish Buck, and Simon, who grew up and made his home in India, and who tussles with his own national identity. An original stance on a war we often feel we know well, Fear in a Handful of Dust presents pertinent questions in an affecting new production that’s as thoughtful as it is engaging.

Particularly striking about Fear in a Handful of Dust is the question of, “what are we fighting for?” It’s a question that’s answered on so many levels, but yet remains unanswered, a huge question mark hanging over the war not only in art, but lingering in the minds of those who lost. What really was the point? What was achieved? Was it worth dying for? The question fills the air of the trench like chlorine gas, silent in its approach and unimaginably damaging in its impact, even if, testament to outstanding scriptwriting, it’s only just touched upon out loud.

Striking in its execution, it doesn’t shy away from the cruel reality of war, where septicaemia is as terrifying an opponent as a machine gun, and as Wilfred Owen points out in his poem Exposure an inexcusable amount of the World War I deaths were attributable not to the ammunition of the enemy, but to the conditions the men were forced to live in. Following on from this, in watching a play like Fear in a Handful of Dust it’s critical that the show doesn’t glamourise or romanticise the war, and that it sticks to the unsavoury reality without turning it into a gratuitous bloodbath. Suffice to say that it does this flawlessly. Just as being drafted in to shoot and kill other humans can be a traumatic experience, and the play seizes upon that realisation, rejecting Grand Theft Auto-style gleeful killing in favour of a study of empathy. For the first time, I was made to actually consider how I would feel to be in the trenches, freezing cold, wet through, fighting the elements as well as the enemy for survival? In the knowledge that death could be waiting around any corner.

Amongst the horror, there is some wonderful characterisation from writer Sevan K Greene; what could have been an utterly miserable play is infused with some light-touch humour and comradery that lift it whilst never masking the bitter taste of the situation, with particularly memorable moments from up-beat joker Buck (Henry Regan). Opposite him, Jack Morris gives a forceful performance as Simon, convincingly broken by his experiences, humiliated yet pragmatic, a man lost and fearful.

The sense of simultaneous separation and togetherness that pervades Simon and Buck’s relationship is reflected brilliantly in the chaotic, muddy set, which divides the audience in two. Like the rows of the trenches, similar people are divided by arbitrary lines. Split into two groups by the country that they just happen to have been born in, or the seat they just happen to have sat in, made to face eachother from the other side of physical, ideological and metaphorical barriers.

Fear in a Handful of Dust takes a cold, hard look at the first world war, lice and all, and exposes it for what it was. It shines a light on the inequalities of the front line, at the motives and the fears of the men that fought, and died, in those filthy, freezing fields. A powerful and poignant piece of drama.

For tickets and information:
Venue: COG Artspace
Dates: 6th December – 9th January 2015

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here