Owen Sheers’ one-man play about World War II poet Keith Douglas is an interesting and sobering indictment of conflict and the effect it has on people’s lives. Douglas was a prodigious writer but, like so many other war poets, he never lived to see his work be celebrated.
It’s this tragic fact that Unicorns, Almost centres itself, focusing on the struggle Douglas has between fighting for his country and pursuing his dreams. Sheers’ script swings back and forth nicely between conversational and lyrical, brought to life by an excellent performance from Dan Krikler.
The problem is that the play never really reaches a satisfying crescendo. As fun as Krikler is to watch, there seems to be the tease of things kicking up a gear, but that never actually happens. Except for one brief moment towards the end the play moves along at a steady pace, which in turn minimises the impact of the finish.
While he doesn’t quite get the pacing right, where John Retallack does excel is his design choices. The entire auditorium is made up to look like a scene from the forties, and it really does feel like everyone has gone back in time. The sound also helps that, Jon Nicholls’ melancholic score a fitting presence throughout.
All the elements are there for Unicorns, Almost to be a very good play, but the pacing stops it being so. A good central performance softens the blow, but doesn’t save it.