The Story of Vasco (showing until 25 April)

The Story of Vasco (showing until 25 April) is a free verse adaptation of Georges Schehadé’s French play Histoire de Vasco, whose anti-war sentiments caused heated debate when it opened in Paris in 1957, at the height of France’s Algerian War.

The story is set in a war-torn part of Europe, some time in the past. In the little town of Sosso, all the men have gone to fight – except for Vasco, a timid barber. A Lieutenant arrives on a mission to recruit the barber for “top secret” duty. Under the misapprehension that this duty is cutting the top General’s hair, Vasco agrees to leave. In fact, Vasco is being sent on a mission that has felled the bravest soldiers. The General’s logic: only someone who doesn’t know what he’s walking into, and so doesn’t try to be a hero, has a hope of success.

Hughes undertook his version of the story ten years later, under commission from Sadler’s Wells opera to provide source material for a libretto. Sections of his work informed the libretto for a 1974 opera by the composer Gordon Crosse.

However the complete text of Hughes’s adaptation, written in his characteristic free verse style, and replete with classic Hughes images such as the crow, has never been published or performed – until now.

Theatre director Adam Barnard discovered that the original manuscripts of the full translation survived among the poet’s papers, which were archived in an American university after his death. The Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, agreed to send facsimiles of 260 pages of handwritten and typed manuscript to London.

You might also be interested to know that every Thursday night we are able to offer free theatre tickets to under 26s – to access these they need to contact Georgia Hicks at


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