I would never have expected that a play told mainly from the perspective of a pigeon named Walter would outstandingly portray the horrors of the First World War, alongside bright splashes of comedy and tenderness. Yet the two-woman cast of ‘Walter’ – along with their fantastic script – have managed it.
Using animals’ perspectives to show the war’s destruction somehow makes it more heart-wrenching than the most graphic descriptions of death and violence. Human characters are portrayed through disembodied vocal recordings, and Walter’s narration blends seamlessly with the elements of dialogue to draw the audience into his world. The actors transform into each animal using only small changes of costume, accent and behaviour, showing how you don’t need a big budget or a big cast to create a plethora of characters. The accents are excellently performed, and watching the two actors change before your eyes from Walter the Geordie pigeon, into Claudette the French pig, or Sir Lancelot the posh Falcon, really highlights exactly how posture and facial expression can be used to change characters.
But despite all the sadness and death Walter portrays, it is not a sad performance
The play is filled with small moments of sorrow, animals showing how they have been affected by the war. There are homes, families, and even limbs lost, and a horse apologising, saying that he cannot carry one more body, that you cannot save everyone. The pigeons are soldiers in this war too, suffering from shell shock and disillusionment and homesickness. But despite all the sadness and death Walter portrays, it is not a sad performance. It is poignant and bittersweet, and draws laughter out of you even when it’s tough moments have hit you hardest. There are a series of small acts of bravery, of creatures saving each other, that you cannot help but feel uplifted by.
Walter goes on a long journey across country and ocean to reach home, and the audience is taken along with him. Dodging bullets and shells, flying ‘away, away, away’, seeing a new fresh perspective on a war that for many is just a briefly mentioned history class. In a world filled with terror and threatening politics, seeing this perspective on the war that should have ended all wars, is something important. It is a way of seeing the past – albeit through different and unexpected eyes – and deciding that we should never let it happen again.