Review: How To Bury A Dead Mule

A grandson unravels the haunting legacy of the Second World War

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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How To Bury A Dead Mule | Image courtesy of SM Publicity
Published 06 Aug 2023

Norman Clements, a Royal Irish Fusilier, survived World War II but was not left unscathed. Horrors from the front line stayed with him the rest of his life. His grandson Richard Clements is now determined to share not just his grandfather’s war stories, but also his struggle to reintegrate into his young family and wider civil society. 

PTSD is clearly at the core of elder Clements' struggles, but appropriate to the condition's naming as recently as 1980, the younger Clements broaches the topic late in the piece. In the run up to this, the young soldier races through his wartime journey that takes him to battlefields all over Europe.

These scenes are delivered at pace, with focus on his many near-misses and the vast number of friends he lost. Every now and then there are more tender moments with his wife and daughters. These are sparsely used, but provide welcome relief from the otherwise unrelenting violence of war. Periodic use of spoken word has a similar effect of heightening the solo performance's emotional landscape.

Richard Clements is a focused and energetic performer. Precise movement and mime, supported by stark lighting, war photos and footage, creates a frenetic atmosphere befitting a war zone. He also shifts from the character as a young man to a much older one with ease and clarity. Though there's little that sets it apart from other WWII plays, the production is polished and well-told.