Lest We Forget? A Hundred Years From War...
I'm lying in a forest in Monmouthshire, dressed as a German private from 1916 (both sexy and highly practical to wear).
Releasing the power of this statement, I herald in my preview for Mametz, National Theatre Wales' production this summer. This site-specific, newly written play by the evergreen Owen Sheers is a startling take on the Battle of Mametz Wood. With many Welsh casualties in this infamous part of The Somme, this still remains as sensitive today in Wales as any coal mining disaster or colonial confrontation.
Attempting to warble my way through the German song Es War Ein Edelweiss, I later realise to my shock and horror, that it is in fact a Nazi song from the 1941. I soon get over this, as it remains too catchy and filled with Germanic oomph to moan about its conception. Although I crave more stage time in this piece (I also briefly play a Welsh private), it's such an exciting project. As wonderful and stimulating as Puffball was to be a part of this has given me a mighty thump back to reality and the horror of war.
With fourteen performances (including three matinÃ©es) to get through, the next few weeks will be intense, solemn and exhausting.
And yet the First World War I find has much less recognition today, with the Second World War always getting centre stage. The Holocaust (Shoah), the Blitz, Pearl Harbour, the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All this and more have been greatly discussed by scholars, the public and the arts clamping on to these subject matter. Is it because WW1 is now nearly one hundred years ago that it has fallen out of the hearts and memories of the public? Granted most are no longer alive from this era and our parents and grandparents can easily recall their time in the 1940s .
A few months back, I recall watching with my mother the interviews with soldiers from WW1 filmed in the 1960s. I felt it was one of those shows in which it would remain too much for my mother to watch. Only this time it was unbearable for me, very close to turning over to something else. In one scene a German man describes in great detail how he killed a British solider with his bayonet and then was psychically sick at what he had done. I don't know how I sat there and watched it, but I did.
Then we come to the sadness. Over the next four years, just how much can we bare from this awful time in recent history? How many times will my head fill with awful sorrow, which almost makes me feel I was there and as if my time was up on this world. I have been telling people to listen to Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, perhaps the most important choral work to come from of the last century. With the poetry of war poet Wilfred Owen and the Latin Mass for the Dead, it's a chilling and gusty work, the finale being a tender and rousing plea for the soldiers to be left alone in peace: Let Us Sleep Now. You feel these soldiers are sick of the memorials and do really want to be left alone. Tears every time I hear this...
Perhaps some of my own art will have to include this mass memorial in the future.
I just hope I can bare it all...
- Mametz by National Theatre Wales opens Tuesday 24th June 2014 at Great Llancayo Upper Wood, near Usk, Monmouthshire and runs till Saturday 5th July 2014
- War Horse continues at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 19th July 2014. Listings of extra events for the show can be found on the WMC website
- Benjamin Britten's War Requiem is preformed at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London on Thursday 21st August 2014 (Prom 47) - live on BBC Radio 3 and available on the iPlayer for a week afterwards.
- WW1 on BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio3/posts/Music-and-the-Great-War-on-BBC-Playlister /// http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww1
- World War One Art Commissions - http://www.1418now.org.uk/
Photo Credit: National Theatre Wales