Not About Heroes
by Stephen MacDonald

Stephen MacDonald - Not About Heroes

BBC Radio 4: Afternoon Theatre

Broadcast: Tuesday 10th May 1983

"Not About Heroes" is a powerful and moving study of friendship. Told largely in their own words, it is the true story of the meeting of war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in the summer of 1917 in the confines of Craiglockhart War Hospital.

In July of that year Sassoon, already a distinguished author and a decorated war hero, wrote a passionate declaration against the continuance of the war, for which he was declared mentally unstable by the military authorities and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital for Nervous Disorders to "recover" his sense of duty and recant. There he met the shell-shocked Owen, who knocked at his door one afternoon seeking an autograph. From that strange and providential meeting among the terrifying ghosts of the trenches, burgeoned a deep friendship as Sassoon recognised the latent talent of the younger man and sought to help him realise his poetic vocation. In just over a year the war would be over and Owen dead, leaving Sassoon with one more ghost, but one whose voice would echo through the century, articulating the suffering of a whole generation.

The title of the play is a quotation from the preface Wilfred Owen wrote in preparation for the publication of his collected poems:

"This book is not about heroes in which poetry is not yet fit to speak of them. Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War. Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn."

Poems used: 'They'; 'The Death Bed'; 'Sick Leave'; 'The Dug-out'; 'The Last Meeting'; 'Counter-attack'; 'I Stood with the Dead'; 'Repression of War Experience'; 'For the last time I say war is not glorious'; all written by Siegfried Sassoon.

"Not About Heroes" was first performed on stage at the Edinburgh Festival in 1982 where it won the Scotman's Fringe First Award..

With Stephen MacDonald [Siegfried Sassoon] and James Talfer [Wilfred Owen].

Produced by Stewart Conn.

Re-broadcast on Monday 19th March 1984 @ 8:00 p.m. and March 15th March 1993 @ 7:45 p.m. which marked the centenary of Wilfred Owen's birth.

90 minutes.


Audience comments on stage play:

"Haunting and deeply moving - a production to remember"

"Never have I been so moved or spellbound by such a brilliant performance and outstanding acting. The power and emotion evoked by such a perfect rendition of some of the best poetry ever was breathtaking."

"I have visited the Somme several times and tonight I felt able to return in spirit with a greater insight for the suffering".

"The parts of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were executed so movingly and with such sincerity that I doubt whether there was a dry eye in the house. ... Thank you to everyone concerned in this excellent production, it certainly gave a great insight as to the futility of such a dreadful war."

"A remarkably sensitive production --- a wonderful performance."


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