It’s an incitement to mutiny!” protests humourless Army officer Lt Col Howfield, having come across the satirical trench newspaper The Wipers Times – being produced by his regiment on an old printing press requisitioned from a bombed out building in the Belgian city of Ypres. “The war is not funny,” he howls.

“I think the authors are aware of that,” replies his commanding officer, General Mitford. “I’ve a feeling that may be the point.” And indeed it is.

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s account of this, until recently, largely forgotten, chapter of the First World War presents one of the most honest pictures of men and war ever portrayed.

Created among the carnage of the Ypres salient, and taking its name from the Tommies’ mispronunciation of the name of the shattered city, The Wipers Times is full of the horror of war but also the wry wit and trench humour which went alongside it. If we have a national quality, it is our ability to poke fun at anything, even something as bleak as total war. It is a coping mechanism – finding light in the darkest of situations, even from a ‘crump hole’ in no-man’s land. And that’s what makes it all so believable – more so than some harrowing tale of unremitting gloom. And believable it should be, because, while it sometimes comes across as a riff on Blackadder Goes Forth (Gen Mitford is a ringer for Stephen Fry’s Gen Melchett), it is a true story. And that makes it all the more moving – and funny.

What Newman and Hislop have created is a tribute to human spirit and our ability to make the most of even the worse situation. And they don’t get much worse than Passchendaele.

Its lean cast is superb and characters are brilliantly observed – particularly Capt Roberts (James Dutton) and Lt Pearson (George Kemp), for whom The Wipers Times is far more than a newspaper – it is a link to humanity in the midst of barbarism.

The show is close to selling out, so don’t hesitate in snapping up one of the last few tickets. In this year, when we mark the centenary of Passchendaele, there is no better tribute to those who served, fought, died and, incredibly, laughed in the ‘war to end all wars’. 5/5

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