Forgotten Voices – REVIEW

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Strangers meet over coffee in a lobby after giving interviews of their experiences of World War I in this 90 minute performance that embraces the suffering inflicted on the survivors of man’s bloodiest conflict to date.  Kitty, widowed early in life, loses the capacity to fall in love again, ‘It was all over for me.’  Colourful anecdotes of working in munitions factories where the yellow powder taints the girls’ skin yellow are told.  The ‘bevvy of beauties’ being so proud of the men at the front, push white feathers into the palms of ‘conchies’.  It is the domestic details that pull hardest on the heartstrings.  During a Music Hall number, the chanteuse starts marching around the room as everyone follows, but pauses before putting a hand on Kitty’s husband’s shoulder.  The men are lead towards a recruitment table and given the King’s shilling.  After Kitty’s husband’s brief 6 days leave he shares his fear with a relative that he may not return.  Belinda Lang plays Kitty with a soft, powerful humanity.  Matthew Kelly plays jocular Private Harris, who eventually lands a bit of luck when a piece of shrapnel lodges in his kneecap.  The hierarchy of the military is imbued in the blood of its personnel.  Harris addresses the next veteran to join the room as Sergeant, ‘I knew by looking at you.’  The well mannered reserve of the Officer who sits quietly in the corner is maintained for most of the performance.  Finally the Officer breaks down and states the unbearable truth that in 3 years the troops advanced just 8 miles and in one of his final manoeuvres he is told to flee that same ground for his life.
Towards the latter part of this social gathering, an American GI joins the group.  As Harris has it, ‘We were waiting for you!’  This new member builds on the healing potential of the reminiscence and it is patently obvious how therapeutic nostalgia can be.  The Yank tells his own tale of a Nation not knowing what they have signed up for, ready to join a fight at ground level but unprepared for trench warfare.  His unit starts off with soldiers 5 paces apart and ends the day with 100 yards separating the soldiers.  Such is the unimaginable devastation.  Cast members Steven Crossley, Rupert Frazer and Tim Woodward impeccably generate the voices of true soldiers continually evaluating life in terms of courage.  To date only three veterans live to tell their tale of the First World War.  This well-written play by director Malcolm McKay is an adaptation of Historian Max Arthur’s anthology of interviews of WWI veterans.  As a piece of theatre, the audience is a bystander in a lobby area where these reminiscences are being spoken.  The play may not overwhelm you as a graphic re-enactment of the brutal scenes surely would, but the sensitive way in which these stories are told penetrates the psyche and is highly emotive.
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