REVIEW: The Trench, Southwark Playhouse

Les Enfants Terribles use their own unique style to offer a refreshing outlook on World War I, but there are moments in which the style of the show doesn’t quite work with the story. 

1. THE TRENCH. James Hastings, Oliver Lansley, Edward Cartwright - ©Rah Petherbridge Photography.jpg
(c)Rah Petherbridge Photography. 

Brought to London in time to mark the centenary of World War I ending, The Trench is a WWI drama inspired by the true story of a miner who ends up being stuck below ground in a collapsed tunnel – stylishly told by Les Enfants Terribles.

Of course, being a Les Enfants Terribles production it is always best to expect the unexpected as the company’s notion of story telling doesn’t tread down a traditional path which is what makes it such a uniquely special company. The trouble is the story that they have chosen to tell this time around doesn’t quite fit into the company’s storytelling methods which then impacts on the pleasure that the production brings.

But it has to be said that Oliver Lansley and James Seager’s production has some beautifully haunting moments in it visually that stick in the audiences mind. For example, by showing the developing relationship between the miner Bert and soldier Collins through a series of mimed actions rather than words, it shows the power of body language and how it can be used to express many different things. Meanwhile, in a completely different way the final moments of the show are bittersweet for the audience to watch: happy for the miner to get his wish but the way in which he got it is particularly sad.

These moments and many others are beautifully highlighted by Tim Kelly’s atmospheric and gorgeous lighting that silhouettes the characters well to add to that sense of horror and isolation of being trapped as well as the brutality of the war going on above ground. In addition to this, Alexander Wolfe’s folk style music adds a strong emotional core that can be lacking in Oliver Lansley’s writing.

It is the story that is perhaps in need of the most work in the show – the purpose of the variety of creatures that the miner meets while underground and what they represent is not made immediately clear, despite the clever way they are integrated in puppet form into the story. Meanwhile, the poetic language means that every scene is vivid, every word has been selected with great care to make an impact – but after a while you begin to get a sense of detachment from the story and its characters that can make it difficult to emotionally engage with as the moment in which Bert receiving a devastating letter from home proves . Given it is only just over an hour long, it needs that story to be made sharper and clearer a lot sooner than it is or perhaps the show could be developed more.

But there are some lovely performances from the cast that give a sense of the scale and horror of World War I, led by Oliver Lansley as Bert. His expressions and mannerisms throughout give a strong sense of his character as well as the devastating blows he is dealt throughout being trapped. Edward Cartwright as strange creature guiding Bert through the three tasks he is set is suitably nasty and sinister, while Kadell Herida as the young  and unexperienced soldier Collins is charmingly naive.

The Trench is a refreshing way to examine WWI and brings an extraordinary story to life with the flair and imagination we have come to expect from Les Enfants Terribles – but this can come at the cost of story itself which can become a bit lost beneath the presentation of the production.

By Emma Clarendon 

The Trench continues to play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 17th November. For more information visit:

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

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