THE First World War was nasty, brutish, and set new standards in

casualty figures. Flanders and the Somme became definitions of mass

death, and at Mons a lot of soldiers saw a vision. But at Christmas, the

troops called a truce, sang carols, and played football in No Man's

Land. Like the rest of us, Bill Bryden knows these things about 1914-18


The title of his spectacular staging of the experience of Govan

shipyard workers who volunteered for service comes from a description of

the war in a soldier's letter home. But, like much else in his script,

any irony is glossed over. Bryden is interested in only one of the

words, and that word is ''big''. If this show's predecessor, 1990's The

Ship, wallowed in nostalgia for a misty-eyed mythic Glasgow, at least it

had a sense of place in its location and a sense of purpose -- however

misguided -- in its structure. The Big Picnic makes next to nothing of

its Govan setting (the only attribute the disused industrial box has as

a theatrical venue is the heavy plant which moves the seated audience

and the musicians with the action). And Bryden has nothing he is burning

to tell us about the war. Men went off to fight, didn't come back and

are commemorated by war memorials. Er, that's it.

Sure, it's a visual treat at times. A mustard gas attack is stunning,

with green light playing on smoke, giving the impression that the

soldiers are swimming in it, while Deborah Pope's flying angel flails

about above them. It is also, tellingly, completely without dialogue.

Elsewhere, the technology undermines the message. The battle sequences

are too like a rave with their lasers and strobes; and the solitary walk

of Gus Adams (a show-stealing performance by Iain MacColl) across

No-Man's Land towards his German counterpart that Christmas is somewhat

diminished by his being noisily followed by the mobile seating bank. Not

to mention the fact that Bryden has him greet the Kaiser's man with the

immortal line: ''We arra peepul, the Govan team.''

Jimmy Logan, Russell Hunter, Morag Hood, and other members of the cast

give solid performances; but Bryden's men are stereotypes and his women

are sad aimless cyphers. The stories of individual characters are

dropped without thought in a production that makes a meal of few crumbs

of considered thought.