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Swan Hotel (Hay-on-Wye Festival) 

Original Production 

By Owen Sheers 

Produced by Story of Books

Director John Retallack 

Lighting Design Ben Pickersgill

Main photography by Finn Beales

(with additional photography by Lucy Hall)

Unicorns, Almost tells the life story of Keith Douglas from his early childhood to his wartime experiences in the Western desert as a tank commander; his accelerated education, as a poet to his early death three days after the D-Day landings in Normandy at age 24.

To mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two, this is the story of one man’s Faustian pact with a war which would both gift his penetrating poetic voice, and then take it away. 

Written by Owen Sheers (Pink Mist), Unicorns, Almost ,conjures Douglas back into confrontational existence before an audience. Echoing the frequent direct address of his poems, Douglas’s pressure to speak to us is twofold: a desire to remind us of the horrors of war and what it steals from us, and a frustration that despite having seen his poems turned into print, they have remained, for the last 70 years, largely unread.

“The language is utterly simple, the musical inflexion of it peculiarly honest and charming, the technique flawless,” wrote Hughes – and much the same could be said of this production, staged under canvas in a hotel outhouse, with a minimalism that is elegantly evocative of army life in the deserts of the north Africa campaign.[...]Director John Retallack and designer Lucy Hall don’t attempt to upstage the written word, which swoops down in voiceover and flickering newsreel amid a soundscape of gunfire, planes and tanks. The contained energy of staging and performance climaxes in a scene that is not about war at all, but a poet’s inability to write.'

Claire Armitstead, The Guardian

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