Monday, 16 November 2009

Elequent Protest - Duke of Yorks Theatre, London

Eloquent Protest IV - Reading Between the Lines
Creator: Caroline Clegg
Reviewed: November 8th 2009
Reviewer: Jeffrey Mayhew and Sorcha Finch-Murray

This is not a critical write up in any real sense of the expression – and nor should it be. No matter how glowing the praise you will now not catch it now for it is gone and, were we insensitive enough to cavil, you would have a year to forget our remarks before its welcome return. And why is this all as it is?

Caroline Clegg, founder of Feelgood Theatre (“theatre that makes a difference”) created this now annual affirmation of peace as “an event where we can ‘be still’ and let art drown out the rhetoric and lies told in the justification of war”. In this she was totally successful this last Remembrance Day at the Duke of York’s Theatre. She had the highly skilled support of a large cast of performers of every style united by the overwhelming importance of the theme and their unswerving commitment to it. Chief amongst these – and I know no-one will mind the distinction – was Janie Dee who, despite immense calls on her time, has been both a driving force as a producer and a performer second to none. In this she had wonderful support from her family – husband Rupert Wickham and daughter Matilda.

Perhaps the most striking contribution was that of the doyen politician Tony Benn who, as in previous years, came across as deeply wise and humane and with something truly genuine about him that seems alien to the contemporary world of politics.

We felt that the most touching readings were in Act I; Sam West reading Futility by Wilfred Owen and later To Whom It May Concern by Adrian Mitchell stole the show, along with Jason Isaacs, who moved the auditorium to tears recounting the story of Private Cyrus Thatcher’s death, June 2009, reading the heartbreaking letters he had written to his family, who where also in the audience.

In contrast Act II felt very musical, sometimes more light-hearted and up-beat than Act I, and with more audience participation. We were asked to sing along with Roy Bailey’s folk songs on peace, and Reem Kelani’s song. The audience were much more active after the interval in contrast to the necessarily reflective and thoughtful response before.

Tony Benn was again warmly received and his anecdotes avidly listened to. He and Roy Bailey were an entertaining double-act with obvious affection and respect for each other. Johnnie Fiori stood out with her passionate and emotionally charged A Change Is Gonna Come - she had wonderful presence and power - together with Reem Kelani’s emotive and earthy performance of the song Mawwaal. Both had the audience whooping.

The company came together on the stage at the end and read from Reflections by Pablo Casals, and sang The Day Will Come. There was no differentiation between the actors, opera singers, musicians, war veterans and soldiers on stage. They had come together to commemorate those lost throughout the history of conflict. There was no ego or competition, but an overall sense of ensemble, mass rejection of the atrocities of war, and shared compassion for the suffering and pain it has, and is, causing.

All artists and theatre staff gave freely of their time, and profits go to The Mark Wright Project established by Bob and Jem Wright in memory of their son, Mark, killed in Afghanistan. The project provides support and advice for ex-sevicemen and women and their families in cases of injury or bereavement.

Do join us next year...
Photo of Tony Benn by Murdo Macleod for the Gaurdian 2008
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