I wasn’t going to write a review of the Gloucestershire People’s Theatre World War One play Carried on the Wind, which I saw on Tuesday night. I don’t feel best placed to critique other people’s work. I guess this is because I am not a critic but an artist who admires all those who perform and create, so who am I to judge what is good or what is not?
However I feel compelled to tell people about this play because it is excellent; so this is not my review of Carried on the Wind, but a reflection on how this play affected me on a personal level and an appreciation of my fellow creatives.
Sheila Mander is the unstoppable creative force whose vision for ensemble theatre is brought vividly to life in this play, all the cast are almost always all on stage at all times, with clever and subtle lighting showing the audience what they should be concentrating on in any given scene. There is the usual combination of dance, movement, shared lines and singing (and of course boxes) that anyone familiar with Sheila’s work will recognise immediately. But familiarity does not breed contempt because all of these facets are combined in thrillingly imaginative and distinctive ways. The cast is a great mix of young and old, experienced and newcomers and they all interact superbly, every little movement has been rehearsed to perfection.
The most stunning example of this is when the cast create people made from paper and then they animate them, adding puppeteer to the cast’s long list of accomplishments; I found the effect incredible and profoundly poetic. It will be difficult for me to write the rest of this reflection without using the words powerful and profound A LOT…. but I will try my best to keep my use of the p words to a minimum.
One of the greatest challenges in creating a piece to reflect the 100 year anniversary of the First World War has to be to come up with an idea that reflects the bravery of the individuals who fought whilst simultaneously highlighting the hideous futility of war. Carried on the Wind achieves this beautifully, it does so by telling the story of the war from the perspective of the real people of Gloucestershire. During the performance the cast read out letters (some from their own relatives) from people who lived during the great war and this connection to real life makes the performances all the more powerful (sorry for the p word) and eloquent.
It also weaves in little moments that show us that in war there are many more victims than those who died fighting, there are the families and children. There is the German Doctor living in England who is a friend to the community who is turned slowly into an unwanted foreigner; this is brilliantly realised when the nursery rhyme Doctor Foster is adapted into Doctor Fritz and the cast surround Herr Doctor shouting this refrain at him, over and over again. This scene culminates in a child spitting on him, a child that he had once treated for whooping cough. The scene demonstrates subtly that war ruins lives in more ways than we may have cared to think about.
Carried on the Wind also reflects the journey that the men and women of Gloucestershire took, from fierce and optimistic jingoism to fear and despair as the war was not over by Christmas and the boys, rugby players, farmers and bank managers of Gloucester soon realised the true horrors of life in the trenches. We see Ian Baldwin as Alfred Boyd cradling a dying German soldier, played by young Fred Reid in one of the most devastating scenes of the play. He tells the dying boy, who is speaking German and calling for his mother, all about Chosen Hill being for the chosen few.
The music is fantastic, written and adapted by Ross Andrews and Mark Faulkner, and sung brilliantly by the whole cast. My favourite musical moment by far was the medley of Goodbyee and Home Fires Burning, the vocals at the end as they swirled around the room, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Special mentions for the set, costumes and props, which were all just right, not too much but perfectly effective.
The play ends with the boys of Gloucestershire falling on the battle field, a field of poppies is then produced and poppies are released from the heavens. Throughout the performance an electronic screen displays various scenes that help to give further depth to the narrative and at the finale of the show it is used to display all the conflicts that have come since the end of World War One, again showing us that even though they fought so future generations would not experience war, we have tragically known war throughout the generations. This maybe is one of the most important things we should never forget during remembrance, that war is still with us and we must try to find a better way.
It seems unfair (at least to me it does) to single out individuals, so I thought I would list the whole cast and crew because they were all fantastic and should be proud of an amazing achievement.
In order of appearance
Ross Andrews – WG Grace
Sally Reid – Zina Jordan 2014/Trixie, Percy’s girlfriend 1914
Terry Robinson – Philip Roberts 1914
Robert Penny – Will Jordan 2014/Will Boyd 1914
Ian Baldwin – Ian 2014/Alfred Boyd 1914
Danielle Jordan – Dora Boyd, Alfred’s wife
Robbie Gardner – Rob 2014/Albert (Hal) Boyd 1914
Rupert Curtis – Murray 2014/Percy Boyd 1914
Henry Amphlett – Singer/Sergeant Major
Phil McCormick – Bank Director/Captain Unwin
Albertas Bartasiunas – Dr. Wechsel
Marion Pollard – Frau Wechsel
Lucy Wordsworth – Mina, the Wechsel’s daughter
Sally Lewis – Matron Violet Unwin/Music Hall singer
David Wilson – Head Master
Lotte Daws – Rosie, Head Master’s daughter/German school girl pen-pal
Pat Amphlett – Lucy Boyd, ‘little mums’
Peter Mander – Charlie Coward
Martin Kimber – Harry Adcock/Old Spot
Veronika Jordan – Doris, Harry’s sister
Laura Attwood – Ivy Coward, Charlie’s niece/English school girl pen-pal
Andrew Cuciurean – Officer Andrew Carter
Mark Faulkner – Butler to the Wechsels/PC Waitridge
Fred Reid – Eddie Boyd/German Soldier
Louis Ross – James
Charlie Nye – Charlie
Dan Main – Robert
Scarlett Jordan – Scarlett Rose Boyd
Sheila Mander – Director
Dave Wood – Stage Manager
Jayne Bott, Russell Jordan and Ian Donnelly – Assistant Stage Managers
Phil Daniels – Set Design
Charles Cusick-Smith – Costume Design
Alex Lewer – Lighting Design
Adam Elliot – Sound Design
Ross Andrews and Mark Faulkner – Musical Direction
Charlie Henderson – Projection and Publicity Design
Jennifer Johns – Wardrobe Supervisor
Rhys Cowe – Set Painter
Nicks Timber – Set Construction
Jayne Bott – Props
Carried on the Wind was written and devised by Cait Davis, Annie Sutton and the cast.