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Echoes of the War

by on 15 November 2018

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Echoes of the War

by J.M.Barrie

Teddington Theatre Club at Coward Studio, Hampton Hill Theatre until 17th November

Review by Didie Bucknall

Echoes of the War is the banner title for four one-act plays by baronet, author and playwright J.M.Barrie. As is well known, Barrie left the proceeds of his Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital but other works are less well known today. He was rich and moved in aristocratic circles so it is surprising that the first of the two plays being performed by the Teddington Theatre Club at the Hampton Hill Theatre was about charladies, as in those First World War days the social classes were more defined and he would have had little experience how the other half lived.

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In The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, three strong experienced actors Sue Bell as Mrs Dowie, Liz Salaman as Mrs Tully and Mandy Stenhouse as Mrs Haggerty are having a trifle over- the-top competition as to which of their sons was the bravest and most dutiful. They all agree that anyone not having a boy at the front did not deserve a mention, they were to be despised and ostracised. Mrs Dowie brings out a small bundle of precious pencilled letters from her son, enquiring whether the other two also had had pencilled letters and were they addressed to ‘Dear Mother’? When they agreed that they had, she caps them all by stating that her letters were to “Dearest Mother”.

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The Reverend Wilkinson (Andy Hewitt) arrives in a flurry of excitement, Mrs Dowie’s son has arrived back on five days leave and he is on the way to fetch him home. The ladies leave Mrs Dowie to greet her son in private not noticing that she is far from anxious to see her son – a tense and deeply revealing performance by Sue Bell. All is explained when the equally reluctant son, beautifully played by Charlie Higgs, arrives.

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This little gem of a play begins with smiles and laughter, but ends with sadness and the audience leave for the interval with lumps in their throats.

Spiritualism was much practiced and brought comfort to many people during the war. The programme notes tell us that it was governed by the supposition that the dead cannot depart until they have returned to comfort the living; until that happened, the living would not have permission to move on with their lives.

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In the second play, A Well Remembered Voice, Mandy Stenhouse as Grace Don, a grieving bereaved mother, is desperately trying to communicate with her dead son by means of a séance. She is joined by Liz Salaman as Mary Rogers and Amy Addison-Dunne as Laura, the deeply saddened girlfriend of the dead soldier. A short circuiting lightbulb overhead seems to spell out answers to Grace’s anxious questions – well timed action by lighting operator John Hart – and she is reassured when it appears to spell out that he loves them. She does not ask whether the father is loved because she has convinced herself that he is heartless and uncaring about their loss. The lightbulb spells out a strange message which doesn’t make much sense to the ladies. They retire and Robert Don played by Andy Hewitt is left alone. We do not yet see that he has cast off his painter’s smock, hung up his fishing rods and put away his pipe in quiet sorrow. The strange message however calls Dick fresh faced in his cricket whites from the ‘other side of the veil’. He can only be seen by one person and the person he has chosen is his father. They have a very tender exchange with Dick constantly urging his father to put on a happy face as they get points ‘up there’ for happiness ‘down there’. A lovely performance by both men.

To set the scene and add to the atmosphere, a large collection of songs originally performed and recorded during the 52 month period of the war were played before and after both performances.

A little poem by Eva Jones penned in May 1916 included in the programme gives a poignant reminder of the tragic end of so many young men and the agonising sadness of those who had so proudly waved their loved ones off to fight for King and Country. The two plays chosen by director Sally Halsey are a fitting tribute towards marking the centenary of the ending of World War One.

Didie Bucknall
November 2018

Photography by Sarah J Carter

From → Drama, Reviews

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