It’s 1941, and London is besieged by the Blitz. One night, a woman brings a strange man off the streets into the comparative safety of her private shelter. Ellen is an American volunteer nurse worrying about her missing fiancé, who was sent to Crete just before it was invaded; Tommy is a World War One veteran who is hiding from his past. Over the course of the bombing raid secrets are revealed, and their hidden connection is uncovered.
The set is minimalist, only a packing crate and a chair, and just a handful of props are used. Therefore, the entire production relies on the two performers and their chemistry. Thankfully Jan van der Black and Emilie Maybank are excellent in their portrayals of Tommy and Ellen, and the intimacy of their situation is well developed.
The plot of the play itself is fairly predictable, and it relies heavily on all-but-impossible coincidences. But the plot is just a framework for the themes and ideas explored by the script – so if you can suspend disbelief over how the two come to be together, the excellent performances more than make up for it.
An example of this comes when van der Black’s Tommy describes the opening morning of the Battle of the Somme; it is highly emotive, as is his explanation of what the Pals Battalions were, and why they were such a terrible idea. The horrors and trauma suffered by Tommy and his friends are now being repeated on the next generation, and the production is able to show how damaging the cycle of war and violence is on everyone caught up in it.
One stand-out element is the argument between the two characters about whether it is better to know the fate of loved ones MIA (Missing in Action). Tommy, describing the way men died in the First World War, thinks it is kinder to not know. Ellen, on the other hand – knowing how her fiancé's mother was eaten away by the doubt – argues for the truth, no matter how horrific. There are compelling arguments on both sides, and the play deals with this sensitive subject well.
Dulce et Decorum Est is a well-put-together production with excellent performances from the two actors. The opening of the play does require suspension of disbelief, but thereafter it is an excellent examination of how the destruction of war can continue long after the guns stop firing.