I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Australian and English collaboration
A modern office block is not the most obvious location in which to see a play set in a hospital room, during the First World War.
The centenary of that conflict has already generated a wealth of creative responses. How can modern dramatists find their own pathway into honouring and illuminating the lives of those caught up in the conflict?
War Stories (part of HOME's Re:play festival) by Emma Gibson, from Canberra, Australia and Manchester writer Rob Johnston, takes us away from the mud and barbed wire to a different kind of struggle.
Elsie (Emily Spowage) is an Australian nurse, caring for soldiers experiencing what we would now call post-traumatic stress. Bernard (Joel Parry), the other character in the play, is one of her patients, suffering from memory loss.
Emily Spowage gives a sincere, unshowy performance (though I couldn't vouch for the accuracy of her accent). We, the audience, become her listening companions as she evokes her farmers-daughter's upbringing. These childhood memories make the arbitrary fatalities of the war seem especially cruel. She stoically carries on caring and coaxing memories from Bernard, despite her own anxieties about the fate of her brothers and fiancé.
The compelling lyrical passages of the script help Emily Spowage to hold our attention in some of the longer sections of narrative.
Joel Parry's performance is affecting in the way he conveys Bernard's frustrations and joys as he sporadically pieces together memories of his pre-war Manchester life. His memory is also a time bomb leading him back to the origin of his trauma.
Originally performed as part of Manchester's 24:7 festival, the hour-long play is complemented by Karen Lauke's jagged and mournful sound design.
It all adds up to a haunting experience where we are left with memories of stories which are both unremarkable in their context but also poignantly individual, fighting not to disappear into the fog of war.
Re:Play is staged at a specially built pop-up theatre at the office block, Number One First Street. The festival marks the end of HOME's site-specific season, before the organisation moves into its newly-built £25m multi-arts centre in May.
War Stories, directed by Benedict Power, is part of HOME's Re:play festival, which is a selection of the best fringe theatre from 2014 in Manchester and Salford. It is hoped that the play will be performed in Canberra in 2016.