The psychological pressures of war

Theatre performance to explore causes and effects of war trauma

Date posted

7 November 2018


The causes and effects of the trauma originally called ‘shellshock’ during WW1 are set to be explored through a new piece of theatre commissioned by Edinburgh Napier’s School of Arts and Creative Industries. 

SHOCKS is conceived, written and directed by Anna Furse, director, writer and professor at Goldsmiths, University of London and artistic director of her theatre company Athletes of the Heart. 

Performed within Craiglockhart Chapel in Edinburgh – on the site of the former Craiglockhart War Hospital where war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon famously met while they were being treated for shellshock during WW1 – the ensemble work is described as a ‘lament and requiem’ for those who were affected by the illness during the Great War. 

Featuring an actor, dancer, soprano, live string quartet and a chorus of performers, SHOCKS will explore the causes of war trauma, looking at what exactly led thousands of men – on all sides – to hysterical breakdown. 

The text is woven around Wilfred Owen’s iconic Dulce et Decorum Est poem as well as the voice of WHR Rivers – the pioneering doctor who treated shell shocked soldiers at Craiglockhart with talking therapy, a new approach at the time. 

Anna has worked with a plethora of creative colleagues and students from Edinburgh Napier, Queen Margaret University (QMU) and the Edinburgh School of Light and Sound for the interdisciplinary project. 

Actors Mathew Wernham and Diogo Andre will be supported by a chorus of Edinburgh Napier BA in English and Acting students, while the University’s resident composer Ken Dempster, has composed a new score for the work. It will be performed live by a string quartet composed of graduates of Edinburgh Napier. 

Others include film projection by Tina Gonzalez, programme leader of MA Film at Edinburgh Napier, lighting by George Tarbuck, Head of the Edinburgh School of Light and Sound, costume design by QMU’s Polly Lister’s students and production management by QMU’s Susan Martin. 

Among the special features of the performance will be the use of the Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen violins within the string quartet. Both violins have been crafted by maker Steven Burnett from the bough of a tree from the grounds of Craiglockhart. 

Writer and director Anna Furse said: “The commission to create this project has been a real gift to me. I have worked on various female hysterias and case histories over the years but this opportunity to address male hysteria in the very site of Craiglockhart is very exciting and special. 

“Pauline Miller Judd and colleagues have introduced me to a superb team of creative academics and students. This is not only an interdisciplinary venture but also an inter-institutional one, both between three Higher Education Institutions in Edinburgh and myself coming from Goldsmiths. I am particularly thrilled that Ken Dempster’s evocative original score will provide the luxury of five live musicians working alongside the 12 performers, with the War Poets’ instruments – that Steve Burnett calls ‘envoys of peace’ -  adding special poignancy to the production.” 

Pauline Miller Judd, Dean of Edinburgh Napier’s School of Arts and Creative Industries, said: “Having seen Anna Furse’s work on female hysteria, I was delighted to commission her to create this interdisciplinary work exploring war trauma to take place soon after the commemorations of the Armistice. The project has provided an exceptional opportunity for staff and students across institutions to work together and create a site specific piece of work at our Craiglockhart campus.”

SHOCKS will be performed twice in Craiglockhart Chapel on Sunday 18 November to commemorate Armistice. Shows will commence at 4.30pm and 7.30pm respectively.

Tickets can be purchased from