A Commemoration of the Armistice Centenary of the Great War 1914–1918 Coach House, Orleans House
Coach House, Orleans House Gallery - 11 November 2018
‘At the Going Down of the Sun’
A Commemoration of the Armistice Centenary of the Great War 1914–1918
Coach House, Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham, 11th November
Review by Matthew Grierson
What impresses about today’s commemoration is the variety of the programme, diligently put together by Anne Warrington and John Crook. With the verse of the First World War so much part of the national imagination, the readings could easily have comprised widely anthologised poems, those that have become standards. But the organisers have chosen an array of interesting texts to offer fresh views and voices, alongside those we might expect.
The afternoon is structured into a number of themed strands, taking us from the romance and jingoism with which the outbreak of war was greeted, through the horrors and bleak humour of the trenches, to the memorialising and reflections that followed the Armistice. Each section is given an introduction by one of the readers, and the readings are performed clearly and engagingly by a mixture of local writers and actors, including screen stars Madeline Smith and Robert Gillespie, and their tones range from the sombre and reverential to the grimly cheeky, according to the varying moods of the pieces.
The quality of readings means that poems as familiar as Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth and Sassoon’s The General retain their bite and bitterness after all this time; so much so, in fact that it is difficult to listen to Brooke in their company. But the selection ranges much more widely than that. Highlights include Wilf Hastwell’s A Phantasy, which lists a paratactic assortment of objects and body parts, as though the war had broken down any framework of sense or meaning. Similarly unexpected is the ribald frankness of humourist A.P.Herbert’s The General Inspecting the Trenches, in which the title character finds himself literally in the shit, and Gillespie’s reading revels plummily in the repeated ‘sh’ sound strung through the poem.
Women’s wider role in the war is also picked up in a pair of pieces written during the war by Jessie Pope, which are both jauntier and more patriotic in tone. These lead into a run of recruiting songs that help recreate the experience of the home front. Linda Sirker and Lottie Walker do their best with Your King and Country Need You and I’ll Make a Man of You, within the limited room in the Coach House. Madeline Smith gamely takes on the voices of munitions workers, who touch on the danger, delight and empowerment of their jobs.
Already quite moodily lit by oranges and reds behind the readers, the room is properly darkened by the time of the going down of the sun. Heather Mountford’s Painting for the Botanist brings a little colour into the Coach House, then, as its talk of finding the proper hues for the poppy gradually develops into a piece of quiet memorial. And, aptly, the evening concludes with Robert Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, with its blend of wistful patriotism and grief for the dead making a bouquet from the different moods of the preceding readings. We have remembered them.
Read Matthew Grierson’s full review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/11/12/armistice
Photography by Pam Frazer
‘At the Going Down of the Sun’