The poetry of Wilfred Owen, born as it was from anger at the cruelty of war, is full of powerful imagery and intense emotion. Sadly, neither are on display in Dean Johnson’s tribute to Owen, Bullets and Daffodils.
Rather than treating Owen as an onstage character, this piece focuses on his mother Susan, and her grief at losing her son to war. But while looking at the grief of those at home is surely a valid theme to explore, here it just comes across as bizarre. While Owen’s presence is felt throughout – several of his pieces have been worked into emotive songs by the show’s creator Johnson, and extracts from others are played in as pre-recorded recitations, whether by narrator Christopher Timothy or Mark Reed – there is little attempt to focus on the complexities of the man himself.
A full musical would maybe look at Owen’s homosexuality, the friendship with fellow war poet Siegfried Sassoon, and other elements of the man’s life that undoubtedly fuelled his development as a man, and as a poet. Here, such events are either merely referenced, or not mentioned at all.
Of the incidents that are addressed – the events in the trenches that led him to write his emotive works, the injuries which led him to be briefly hospitalised before returning to the front – they are often just talked about, and then symbolised through a number of dance pieces choreographed and performed by Charlotte Roberts, often in conjunction with Chloe Torpey (who also plays Susan Owen). Unfortunately, there is little in the choreography to match the power of Owen’s words. Life in the trenches has never looked so banal.
The best musical numbers of the work, such as they are, are performed by Lindsay Field, a singer whose rasping, well-worn vocals match the style of the music. But in common with the choreography, there is insufficient variety or interest to sustain even the show’s short running time.