Not About Heroes: Play tells story of First World War poets | Vicky Meets

Vicky meets... Jonathan Goodwin, director of Not About Heroes.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 8:15 am

• The piece is about war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. What else can you tell us?

It tells a story of two incredible poets that people think they know about. You may have covered their poems at GCSE or A-level, but what you probably won’t know is that the two men knew other really well. They met in 1918 when they were at Craiglockhart, a place where soldiers were sent when they were not mentally secure. Sassoon was put there because he was really anti-war. He had won medals including the George Cross for his gallantry, but he began saying that the war was dreadful and it should stop. So he needed to be ‘disappeared’. Owen, who had suffered mental anguish during the war, found himself in the same place as his hero.

• They shared a love of poetry, but there is more to it than that, isn’t there?

Jonathan Goodwin, director, Not About Heroes

Yes. They were almost certainly gay, something that wasn’t known at the time and that only since their deaths has been revealed. Not About Heroes explores their connection; the cruelty of war, the beauty of words and their sexuality. Their motivation to write war poetry was so that war would never happen again. They wanted people to remember it in all its horror and poetry was a way of documenting that. The heartbreak of seeing young men slaughtered and what it did to them as gay men must have been horrific. There was a lot of poetry in the original text, but it was the back story that we really wanted to explore. We got permission make some cuts so we could distil it and find the essence of the scenes within the narrative. We also have a wonderful original score written by Stephen Hackshaw.

• What do you hope audiences will take away from the play?

I hope that they will read or re-read the poetry. It will, I think, move people and make them curious. Make them think. It also feels very relevant. If you take away the relationship and the poetry you could set this scene today in Afghanistan; that sense of survival, the loss of life and people’s anger towards those authorities that run wars. But there’s a lot to celebrate in this piece, too. It has really pushed the two actors, who are on stage throughout. It has been a really joyous journey for us all.

• What’s your background?

I originally trained as an actor. I then directed a lot of West Sussex County Youth Theatre, which I loved, before moving into teaching and lecturing and setting up several major international projects. More recently I moved to the Institute of Contemporary Theatre in Brighton as head of education and learning. I have directed a lot of musicals in recent times so this is a lovely change of gear.

• Where can we find out more?

Not About Heroes runs from October 14-16 at the Alexandra Theatre, Bognor Regis – visit www.alexandratheatre.co.uk to find out more.