‘Women of World War One’ performed by Musicians South West CIC and Trio Paradis at the Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis. A powerful performance.
Women and war: doesn’t have quite the same familiarity to it as ‘men and war’ given that it is invariably men who start wars, men who fight in wars (although this has changed in recent years) and men who end wars.
The First World War was a major turning point for women…and war, and there can be no doubt that the women played an essential role between 1914-1918 and of course, since then.
But notwithstanding the social revolution that took place at this time, there was also a tide of literary and musical masterpieces that emerged as women reflected on the tragedy of World War I; at the time they were probably viewed as little more than emotional outbursts by the weaker sex, but now with the help of Jacquelyn Bevan, the performance of Women of World War One marries up the forgotten or unrecognised talent of female musicians with the poems and diaries kept by a broad cross-section of women who had very different views on the war machine.
The stage is set so that you feel like you are a guest in someone’s front parlour during the Edwardian/Georgian era, a subdued and melancholy atmosphere hangs in the air.
The film screen is used to project the different images of the war, some of them infiltrating and disturbing your senses in a remote but nonetheless disconcerting way and others images of ghosts from long ago; soldiers and nurses who may or may not have survived those dark years. Film makers Polly Nash and Liberty Smith’s footage is both harrowing and heart-wrenching.
Poetry is one of the best mediums to communicate a message. a poem can convey an entire chapter in just one short verse and the Munitions Worker along with The Parson’s Call made the author’s sentiments only too clear.
We also heard an extract from Margot Asquith’s diary; suffragettes, school girls and a debutante, each taking a different view and no doubt each were viewed differently for their opinion at the time. The narrators, Petra Schofield and Barbara Ingledew use clever oratory skills to match the character of each author and the impact of the story being told.
It was one ‘scene’ in particular that struck me: a young couple were invited to a dance and during the evening one of the organisers (a woman) gave a speech that shamed all of the men in the hall into joining up. History tells of the guilt and dishonour men were made to feel if they did not join the ranks of cannon fodder that fed the war machine. Their bravery is hard matched.
The music is perfectly matched; each bomb exploding, each gun fired, each man down is thrust into your imagination with brutal force from the musical trio: Jacquelyn Bevan on piano, Cressida Nash on cello and Lorna Osborn on violin are clearly very much in tune with the musical score and watching the way they performed was of equal importance to me as I absorbed the different stories that were being shared with the audience.
For me, this true-to-life performance had more meaning than a more conventional ‘story’ might have done. Knowing that I was listening to the thoughts and feelings of women who lived 100 years ago but whose characters and sentiments were not so very different from women now, made it all the more real and thus all the more chilling.