No Rhyme….No Reason? The Poetry of War
I wondered how many folk would turn out to listen to war poetry being performed at the Oxmarket Centre of Art in Chichester on Sunday 12th July. The 12th of July and war! But then it was Chichester not Ireland’s six counties….
I sat at the back having been saluted by others nibbling and drinking the refreshments offered by the Felpham ‘support team’ as we entered. I admired the art and information displayed around the walls of the arts centre and glimpsing through our programmes wondered what form this performance would take. The scene was soon set by John Bailey plucking the haunting Afghan musical instrument, the rubab and the tall elegant Veronica Doubleday’s chanting the mesmerising Baheh-ye jaw-e madar, an Afghan mother’s lament.
It was the poetry rather than war that enticed me to the Chichester Performance of ‘No Rhyme ….No Reason?’ What a pleasure then to listen to so many well chosen poems interpreted and enunciated so distinctly and meaningfully. I found myself mouthing the words of Byron’s Destruction of Sennacherib, Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, and T. S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and examining the sentiments of many more poetry renderings. As narrators Christine West and Rod Beacham continuously posed questions about war, recent scenes of the brutal killings reported on TV began to flash through my mind reminding me too of my family’s accounts of futile wars. Their accounts of suffering brought about by such as the release of the Black and Tans in Ireland as we struggled towards independence, struggles reflected our own sad melodies and rebel songs over the ages are still with me. Then I reflected on the plight of so many other nations: Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, America, all over the world and here in Britain too - where there are no ‘winners’ - only suffering and the waste of countless lives - when war, war supersedes jaw, jaw.
...and Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered (Shakespeare: Henry V) Soldiers fed as fodder will not be there to glory in victory!
The presence of, and performance of poems by, contemporary serving soldiers Major David Hamilton and Lieutenant Colonel JM Brown thankfully served as a reminder that war poetry is not restricted to ‘dead poets’.
I considered the debate about a ‘just war’. Faced with the eternal dilemma of what to do as we struggle for peace and with our need for just basic requirements not even St Thomas Aquinas’ conditions for a just war offer us satisfactory answers.
There were originally three by Aquinas:
· The war must be started and controlled by the authority of state or ruler.
· There must be a just cause.
· The war must be for good, or against evil. Law and order must always be restored.
The Catholic Church added a fourth
· The war must be a last resort.
Thank you, Voices in Performances for so competently posing the questions in rhyme and rhythms that proved to be so evocative and helped me to review again my longing for peace.
What a wonderfully professional and polished performance. Such a high standard of acting, singing, aesthetic plucking and strumming of the rubab ...the costumes and dancing…so much so evocatively rendered by accomplished artists in appropriate roles. How skilfully your scripting managed to set about showing arguments on both sides while avoiding rhetoric.
Marion Dante 07/10/09
Moving and Poignant Performance
This moving and poignant performance presented by the accomplished Voices In Performance (VIP), directed by Julia Goodman, never failed but to bring tears to your eyes, made you laugh and feel guilty in equal measures. Drawn from an immense catalogue, the writers and actors managed to avoid obvious pitfalls and created a well though out and skilful picture of our 'human condition' ...WAR!
The two presenters and writers Christine West and Rod Beacham, lured us into a false sense of security, reason, and beauty , then led us to graphic horror. Material drawn from Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Tennyson was contrasted with the First World War poets, Kipling, Eliot and the unforgettable Pastor Martin Niemoller.
A 60's Ban The Bomb hippies protest led us towards a second world war reflection of 'our condition', chillingly reminding us of the four minute warning ' Your Attention Please' by Peter Porter. The evening drew to a close with readings by contemporary and serving Soldier Poets, Major David Hamilton and Lieutenant Colonel J M Brown (Soldiers With A Tattoo and The Availability Of The Dead ) - a very stark reminder of tomorrow's headlines and headlines for months to come.
The haunting voices were outstanding and never let you go. Julia was joined by Patrick Hastings, Clare Howard, Mark Mason Jones and Nigel Purchase in highly authoritative and commanding performances.
Music always plays its part in war and here beautifully provided by Roger Limb. However the outstanding contribution made by John Baily and Veronica Doubleday, with unique Afghan music ( An Afghan Mother's Lament and I Have A Rendezvous With Death) harrowingly reminds us of the dreadful forceful contribution civilians make towards our ambitions.
There were many young people there last night, and hopefully many more in the future will see this thought provoking production.
Julian Sluggett 12/7/09
Baby Boomers Hit Back
No Rhyme..No Reason? presented by the accomplished Voices In Performance group, directed by Julia Goodman, created a kaleidoscope of emotions - reason, justification, passion, horror and humour around the futility, necessity and greed of war. Reflections particularly appropriate during the 70th anniversary of the start of WW2.
The moving performance was framed by protagonist and antagonist, Christine West and Rod Beacham, who skillfully led us through a wealth of beautiful material drawn from First World War poets as well as Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Tennyson, through to Vera Brittain and the thought provoking words of Pastor Niemoller, and those of contemporary soldier poets.
Led by Julia, the Voices: Patrick Hastings, Clare Howard, Mark Mason Jones and Nigel Purchase, were hauntingly commanding. Together they bounced our emotions around the Hall, creating feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, sorrow and laughter, mirroring the gamut of feelings experienced in times of conflict. This performance included a remarkable poem written and presented by 12 year old Toby Winter, the youngest ever contributor to Voices.
A delightful 60's Ban The Bomb hippies' protest opened Act 2, reminding us "Baby Boomers" that we have never been involved in a world wide conflict, although it was a close run gamble - the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly tipped the balance before common sense prevailed.
Music and sound effects were provided by the accomplished Roger Limb. John Bailey and Veronica Doubleday's Afghan songs and music uniquely shaped the performance, harrowingly reminding us of the sacrifices made by civilians, as well as service personnel, in our current conflicts.
Well worth catching up with this company - see their website for
news of future performances.
I was Seduced
I was seduced. Though I knew Voices In Performance was a company who had already achieved fine things with their evenings of poetry centred on William Blake and on the Poetry of War, the title of their third offering threw me. Was it going to be ‘Kissy Kissy Aw Shucksy’ stuff from people who were past it? Then, at a magical June evening of poetry in a local garden beneath a deepening blue sky touched with wisps of cirrus I met some of the people who were going to be involved, so I went. Good decision.
Julia Goodman had the direction of five other accomplished actors: Rod Beacham, Patrick Hastings, Clare Howard, Mark Mason-Jones and including Christine West, the programme compiler, who had used them all to search out material. They made an extraordinarily effective team. For an art gallery, the Oxmarket has fine acoustics, but it was the clarity of all the voices, their distinctness and their modulation that ensured I didn’t miss a word of the whole evening. It began with a vigour I hadn’t met before at such a reading: six actors striding on stage in turn each answering Philip Sidney’s question ‘What is love?’ with a couplet from Adrian Henry’s “Love is”. What followed was a fascinating selection of poets and poems that achieved a happy mix of old favourites and startling newcomers. Roger McGough, Dorothy Parker, Fleur Adcock and Wendy Cope can produce last lines that make you chuckle out loud, and I found out that even A.E.Housman can do as much in “Oh, when I was in love with you”. (Do you know Cope’s immortal put-down on all young women with a taste for romantic poetry? “I think I am in love with A.E. Housman/Which puts me in a worse-than-usual fix/No woman ever stood a chance with Housman/ And he’s been dead since 1936”!)
This selection though was not limited to chuckles. It explored a great range of emotion and experience. Though the company had avoided cutting their material into themed chunks and were skilled at leading fluently from one piece to the next, the second part of the evening dealt with Old - no, Julia insisted, Mature - Love, and was naturally rather more sober. It’s difficult to be sober when contemplating Adrian Mitchell’s Puppy called Puberty and even Marvell’s desperately earnest attempt to seduce His Coy Mistress is full of a young Man’s sense of fun. But when Pearl Goodman at the age of 92, with silver hair and a silver voice sang “Cold Blows The Wind On My True Love” there were tears in the air. The same power came from Julia, Clare and Christine perfectly together in Burns’ “John Anderson, my Jo, John”. I’m not so sure that other choral versions were a good idea. Did Betjeman’s Joan Hunter Dunne really benefit from being courted by three Aldershot subalterns? Jay Deeble who enriched much of the evening with unobtrusive keyboard music sang “Barbara Allan” so sweetly that I think putting some verses into the mouth of her dead lover was perhaps unnecessary. But this company had plainly worked their socks off to give us a professional performance. We in the audience loved it.
Colin Crouch, 27th June, 2010
Carry On Cupid
English Lyrics , stimulating and warm a very successful Culture-Exchange.
Weil am Rhein (jop).