It has been quite a while since I last wrote, hasn’t it? Life has got pretty busy with the start of my MA course but with my first portfolio handed in and done with for now, I will chat to you lovely folks about The Wipers Times which I saw at Sheffield’s Lyceum a week ago.
The Wipers Times tells the true story of soldiers from the 12th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters who, during the First World War, find an abandoned printing press in the Belgian town of Ypres (called Wipers by the British soldiers) and decide to print a satirical paper about the war. Left in the very capable hands, and the obvious heirs to The Wipers Times’ humour, of Private Eye’s Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, the soldiers’ voices and the magazine’s jokes shine through without being overly sentimental or nostalgic – in fact, the jokes are all too relatable, even 100 years on.
The play is a theatrical rewrite of Hislop’s and Newman’s 2014 television screenplay of The Wipers Times (I checked – it’s on Netflix and definitely worth a watch!). The TV film obviously has the advantage of being able to use different locations and very helpful subtitles to let the viewer know when and where the action is taking place. However the play handled all of these changes really well by the soldiers moving the composite set to represent the newspaper office post-war as well as all the war time locations. During these set changes, the cast sing a range of spoof First World War songs which Nick Green so expertly crafts to add to the gallows humour of the play.
The Wipers Times smoothly combines plot with sketches based on actual ads from the paper with a music hall variety act tone – “do you suffer from optimism?” probably being the most well-known. Definitely one of my top moments had to be the miracle at Christmas tale with a very aggressive Father Christmas literally pelting a hapless soldier with snow – it tickled me a lot! The satire is just spot on and pretty much all the jokes made within the play are the soldiers’ own from the paper. Even if you have next to no knowledge of the First World War, I would still recommend going to watch it! During a Q&A session after the performance, Ian Hislop commented that it was easy to dismiss or patronise humour from history but the humour of The Wipers Times is just so cuttingly British that it will make anyone laugh!
The production is touring until the 19th of November so definitely go if you can – if you can’t, I would highly recommend the TV film available on Netflix instead. And if you're interested in reading The Wipers Times then the original documents have been digitised.