It Is Easy To Be Dead

by Neil McPherson. Based on the poetry, letters and brief life of Charles Hamilton Sorley.

15 June – 9 July 2016

“And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.”

The world premiere

Subsequently transferred to Trafalgar Studios from 9 November-3 December 2016

★★★★★ The Guardian
★★★★★ Broadway World
★★★★★ London Pub Theatres
★★★★★ The Upcoming
★★★★★ Carn’s Theatre Passion
★★★★ and Pick of The Week, The Sunday Times
★★★★ The Times
★★★★ Time Out
★★★★ WhatsOnStage
★★★★ The Jewish Chronicle
★★★★ Musical Theatre Review
★★★★ Reviewsgate
★★★★ London Theatre 1
★★★★ LiveTheatre
★★★★ Ginger Wig and Strolling Man
★★★★ TheSpyintheStalls

Nominated for an Olivier Award
Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre

Nominated for a MyTheatreAward
Best Original Work

Nominated for 7 OffWestEnd Awards:-

Best Male Performance
Best Male Performance in a Supporting Role
Best New Play
Best Director
Best Lighting Designer
Best Sound Designer
Best Set Designer

Nominated for four Broadway World UK Awards

Best Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Best Direction of a New Production of a Play
Best New London Fringe Production
Best New Play

Commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the world premiere of It Is Easy To Be Dead by award-winning playwright Neil McPherson.

Born in Aberdeen, Charles Sorley was studying in Germany when the First World War broke out and was briefly imprisoned as an enemy alien. He was one of the first to join the army in 1914.

Killed in action a year later at the age of 20, his poems are among the most ambivalent , profound and moving war poetry ever written.

It Is Easy To Be Dead tells the story of Sorley’s brief life through his work and music and songs from some of the greatest composers of the period including George Butterworth, Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna, Ivor Gurney, John Ireland, Rudi Stephan and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Unique among the poets of the First World War, Sorley’s life and work fits chronologically into the patriotic idealism of such writers as Julian Grenfell and Rupert Brooke (whom Sorley criticised for his “sentimental attitude”). Perhaps because of his time in Germany before the war, Sorley perceived the truth of the war long before his fellow writers, and anticipated the grim disillusionment of later poets such as Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon.

The cast includes Jenny Lee (West End, Royal Court Theatre, The Young Vic, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh), Tom Marshall (National Theatre, West End, Royal Court Theatre, Menier Chocolate Factory) and two new discoveries – actor Alexander Knox as Charles Sorley, and acclaimed young tenor Hugh Benson.


"Potentially the greatest poet lost to us in that war...had Sorley lived, he might have become our greatest dramatist since Shakespeare" – John Masefield.

"One of the three poets of importance killed during the war [alongside Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg]." – Robert Graves.

"Probably the most clear-sighted English poet killed in the war." – Robert Nichols.

"Among the most remarkable of...the boy-poets killed in the war." – John Middleton Murry


Playwright Neil McPherson is Artistic Director of the Finborough Theatre. His first play I Wish to Die Singing – Voices From The Armenian Genocide, commemorating the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, was presented at the Finborough Theatre in 2015, and an excerpt was also performed concurrently in Los Angeles. The script is published by Oberon Books. I Wish to Die Singing won the Best Play Award 2015 in the UK Studio Theatre Awards.


Director Max Key returns to the Finborough Theatre following the sell-out world premiere of Year 10 which won the Time Out Critics' Choice Award and transferred to BAC, prior to a European tour. He trained on the National Theatre Directors' Course and works in theatre, film and opera. Theatre includes Up the Royal Borough and Lullaby Burn (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith), Mariana Pineda, The Turn of the Screw and The Rape of Lucretia (Arcola Theatre), Vote By Ballot and NT Connections (National Theatre), Macbeth (Indian Tour) and Wilde Tales (Southwark Playhouse). Assistant Direction includes assisting Peter Gill on The Voysey Inheritance (National Theatre), Sean Holmes on Treasure Island (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Tony Harrison on Fram (National Theatre) and Francesca Zambello on La Bohème (Royal Albert Hall). Film includes Preservation starring Saskia Reeves for Palm Springs International Film Festival and BAFTA.

Max has taught and directed extensively at leading London drama schools including LAMDA and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. His productions for drama schools include Cymbeline, The Way of the World, Summerfolk, August: Osage County and Jerusalem. Most recently, Max has revived Tim Albery's production of The Flying Dutchman (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) and was Associate Director for Peter Gill on As Good A Time As Any (The Print Room).


THEGREATWAR100 series is a new occasional series of works about – or written during – the Great War to be presented by the Finborough Theatre from 2014 to 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.


“A century on, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ve heard enough from the trenches. This artful evening reminds us that there is always more to learn, to be appalled by and, yes, dazzled by too.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“A fitting and poignant tribute.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out

“A sharp reminder of the fragility of peace and the terrible consequences of taking that state for granted.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World

“I must admit I’d never heard of Charles Sorley before watching this play, but having now discovered his haunting poetry, it’s difficult not to be moved by its refreshing, if brutal, honesty. There’s nothing sentimental or patriotic about his writing.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion

“A poignant moving narrative of one man’s war. What Charles Sorley achieved in his short life should remain an inspiration to us all. Not to be missed.”

“This beautiful tribute to the First World War poet Charles Sorley took me by surprise. After all, I had — I’ll confess — never heard of Sorley, a poet celebrated by his peers if not by a huge wider public, who died aged 20 in 1915 in the Battle of Loos. And the prospect of a show made up of his letters and poems, with British and German songs from the period and dramatisations of his stiff Scottish parents’ reactions to his death . . . it sounded more National Trust than National Theatre. Yet It is Easy to be Dead turns out to be a tender, absorbing, eye-opening account of both an awful conflict and a great lost talent.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Hugely worthwhile piece, moving yet never mawkish, pertinent for its quiet reminder of the fragility of life, civilisation and peace.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times

“A sobering, moving, magnificent portrait of a life unfinished.” Jessica Handscomb, A Younger Theatre

“Charles Sorley is not a First World War poet as familiar as Wilfred Owen or Rupert Brooke, whose works are ingrained on the national consciousness. But on the evidence of Neil McPherson’s fascinating dramatisation of his short life, he merits no less attention.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out

“A haunting tribute to a remarkable forgotten war poet” Claire Allfree, The Daily Telegraph

“Quietly devastating.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph

“Well crafted, well staged, well acted.” Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail

“Powerful musical moments.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Copious haunting songs.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph

“A fascinating insight into one of the Great War’s lesser known, yet certainly important, writers.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World

“Marked by an outstanding central performance and infused with audio-visual delights, It is Easy to Be Dead is a moving testament and a must-see during its limited run.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World

“The end of Act Two had me in tears and left me tremendously moved.” Douglas Mayo,

“A portrait of Charles Hamilton Sorley, whose highly intelligent, optimistic young life and undoubted literary talent.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph

“McPherson shows Sorley to be a young man both of his time and enticingly modern in his lack of sentimentality and his conversational tone.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Neil McPherson’s thoughtful play…conveys both the young man’s enthusiastic energy and the intensity of his parents’ loss.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times

“Beautifully written…McPherson's perfectly judged script.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World

“The cast are tremendous.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World

“Alexander Knox is stunning as Sorley, giving him the bonhomie of a young thing, the clear-sightedness of an old soul.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Alexander Knox gives a brilliant performance.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion

“Alexander Knox’s inquisitively engaging Charlie.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times

“This is Alexander Knox's play. His Charlie is the son every parent wants, the brother every sister wants, the friend every young man wants and, had he got to Oxford, the boyfriend every undergraduate wants.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World

“An excellent central performance: Alexander Knox honours Sorley with a deeply sympathetic portrayal, finely balancing passion and poise.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out

“Sorley’s wit and drive are captured perfectly by the young actor Alexander Knox, a veritable whirlwind around the stage.”

“Whether generating uneasy sexual heat with his German hostess (Elizabeth Rossiter, also the pianist) or shouting an account of battle against a barrage of sound effects— Knox has a radiant ease about him.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Sorley, played by Alexander Knox, was not a sentimentalist, and wrote of the war with nothing but frank disfavour. Knox brings this to life with the playful and boyish demeanour in which he recites Sorley’s letters, and captures Sorley’s brightness brilliantly.” Jessica Handscomb, A Younger Theatre

“Lively, animated, emotional, real, Knox takes the writings of Sorley and brings them wondrously to live with a zeal that is astounding… A staggering performance…full of humour, pathos and truth” Douglas Mayo,

“Alexander Knox in a fine central performance. Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail

“Alexander Knox is terrific as Sorley, infusing his character with wit and effervescing with intelligence while delivering the lines of his poems with deft and moving sincerity.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World

“In Alexander Knox’s likeable, bright-eyed performance you get a palpable, painful inkling of what was lost.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph

“Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee as his parents are perfect.”

“Heartbreaking scenes as his parents, played by Jenny Lee and Tom Marshall.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion

“Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee make wholly believable parents: he the epitome of the Calvanist tradition, stiff upper lip maintained - until he cracks; she the grieving mother, emotions just about held in check, but unable to cope with the void in her life.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World

“As Sorley’s parents, Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee are everything you could want. Proud, prudent, emotive, they play these parts truthfully, making the loss of their son all the more moving.” Douglas Mayo,

“Hugh Benson sings beautifully.” Jessica Handscomb, A Younger Theatre

“Hugh Benson, wonderful.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times

“Hugh Benson, his operatic voice alternately strident and doleful, as poems are put to music and old favourites sung, adds a layer of poignancy to a play hardly short in the first place.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World

“Benson has a truly amazing and powerful voice, yet is expressive and mesmerising.”

“Hugh Benson also deserves mention for his outstanding vocals.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World

“Music beautifully performed by singer Hugh Benson and pianist Elizabeth Rossiter.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion

“The music, sung exquisitely by Hugh Benson and accompanied on piano by Elizabeth Rossiter, hauntingly underscores Sorley's conviction in the beauty of German culture.” Claire Allfree, The Daily Telegraph

“Elizabeth Rossiter’s deft music direction, accompanied by Hugh Benson’s singing, appropriately combines British and German songs.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out

“The director, Max Key, keeps the atmosphere vivid throughout.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times

“Walking out onto Whitehall mid-evening on Remembrance Day, and seeing veterans with their medals walking up towards Trafalgar Square, was a final devastating blow that left Sorley in my mind for most of the weekend. I must admit to spending time on the weekend finding more of Sorley’s work to read.” Douglas Mayo,


“90 minutes of continuously compelling theatre.” Howard Loxton, British Theatre Guide

“Powerful...a searing account of the Armenian genocide....It movingly achieves what it sets out to do.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Moving and shocking... There is no questioning its power and importance.” Gerald Berkowitz, TheatreGuideLondon

“A well-rounded and extremely powerful account of what took place” Mayer Wakefield, Morning Star

“This sobering piece of documentary theatre...” There Ought To Be Clowns

“The play’s value is undeniable...A true example of activist theatre.” Chelsey Pippin, Everything Theatre

“Simple, moving and powerful...Using well-researched testimonies, letters, poems, reports and choruses of facts...the documentary focuses on the cases of a handful of individuals, humanising the abstract experiences of a whole people... The evening ends on a justifiable note of outrage. You leave the theatre with a soul full of anger.” Aleks Sierz, The Stage.

“Neil McPherson employs documentary drama, and to shocking effect... The convention of delivering verbatim texts proves extraordinarily powerful.” Judi Herman, Jewish Renaissance

15 June – 9 July 2016

Tickets and Times

Tuesday 7:30pm
Wednesday 7:30pm
Thursday 7:30pm
Friday 7:30pm
Saturday 3:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm

1 hr 50 minutes with one interval of 15 minutes.