MERRY IT WAS TO LAUGH THERE
Jubilant Productions at the Cramphorn Theatre
A century on, so much remains of the War To End All War.
Chatting before curtain-up, we heard of medals, binoculars, embroidered postcards from the front, ornaments fashioned from shell-cases – all carefully preserved by the families of the Fallen.
And of course the words. This uniquely moving anthology, devised by the cast, directed by Ignatius Anthony and producer Jules Easlea, mingles great poetry with the voices of the lads on the front – the first universally literate army – and, in voice-over [Anthony], the carefully preserved diaries of Captain K C Buchanan. Like many of his brother officers, he recorded with a dry, meticulous precision, the minutiae and the horror of life in the trenches.
The simple setting has a small space for Him [Tim Freeman], mess tin, kitbag, and a small space opposite for Her [Christine Absalom], one of Binyon's ”familiar tables of home”, a brief candle burning in the sad shires.
The women, who found a new freedom in these dark days, were well represented here. Pacifist poet Margaret Postgate Cole - “The Veteran”, May Herschell Clark's pithy “Nothing to Report”, Rose Macaulay's “Many Sisters” [ a tomboy's complaint – 'Oh it's you have the luck, out there in blood and muck' ] and Sassoon's German mother dreaming by the fire ['While you are knitting socks to send your son / His face is trodden deeper in the mud.']
The show's title – from Wilfred Owen – suggests a lighter side, and there was a leavening of grim humour from the Tommies themselves – Mr Rat, Trench Pudding, Madame la Somme, the London Skittish.
Rich pickings indeed from the pity of war, not readings but heartfelt performances from our two actors, simply presented, with non-specific costumes, back projections, and a bonus collage of postcards home in the interval.
We do not discover until the end that the first words we hear – A Soldier's Winter [ 'And as I lie there staring at the sky / is my body cold ? / As I lie I hope I am not forgotten / But here I am alone. / I close my eyes and try to think of home …' ] were penned not in the mud of Flanders but just five years ago in Kandahar …
Merry it was to laugh there-