Fear in a Handful of Dust

My first visit to the new COG ARTSpace above the De Beauvoir Arms in Hackney was to see a new play by Sevan K Greene, Fear in a Handful of Dust. This two-hander, directed by Jonny Collis, is set in a trench in France on 3 September 1916: two soldiers, Simon and Buck, find themselves trapped in an isolated trench during the Battle of Guillemont. The two, who come from different backgrounds – Simon, an Englishman from India, and Buck, from Ireland – must learn to get along and work together if they are to survive.

The traverse staging allows us to get close to the characters and feel part of the action. The actors move along a muddy floor between the ends of the stage, one of which doubles as the edge of the trench from where the two are regularly shot at. Isa Shaw-Abulafia’s design is simple but effective.

Though initially hostile to one another – Buck’s involvement in the conflict in Ireland and Simon’s reluctance to open up are two bones of contention – the two grow closer as the night goes on, partly because of the forced intimacy of the trenches that sees Simon stripping off to treat his lice-ridden uniform and Buck’s wound being sterilised with his own urine. The pair find a connection through stories and heritage – Buck’s Celtic tales and Simon’s knowledge of Hindu culture emphasise their similarities. Both actors give powerful performances – Henry Regan as Buck and Jack Morris as Simon are both superb.

The blurb for the play describes how it “examines how war exposes the humanity in a man, rather than the monster”, and I think it succeeds. It doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant aspects of trench warfare, but it shows how meaningful relationships can be formed even in the midst of tragedy.

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