Sunday, 10 November 2013

Silent Night in Headingley...

Photo by Sally Bavage
... which, for the denizens of Headingley, a quiet Friday night would be rare.  However, this was a Silent Night of an altogether different category.  A combination of original music and lyrics, with a script The Narrator performed whilst familiar images of World War 1 played across the screen and in our mind’s eyes too.  The stark images, however, segued into the portrait pictures of the many writers of letters used to create the script and the lyrics.

“I wake from a dream into a dream
Half in heaven, Half in hell.”
Thus the wonderful voice of Julie Lloyd begins to tell us the stories of life away from Blighty from the perspectives of the lonely soldier and lonely partner at home.  With the rest of the group iFive – Charlie Burman, Dave Bowie, Steve Jones and Tony Hall, who created this splendid performance as well as partnering Julie in the songs – The Narrator Les Staves, drafted in for the occasion, unfolded the story bit by bit.

The night before Christmas 1914 had no shelling, no noise; it was indeed silent. Men slept despite the biting cold and the clogging mud.  Then the refrains of ‘Stille Nacht or ‘Silent Night’ came to them from the German trenches and … well, we know about the football game with a tin of bully beef in No Man’s Land, the exchange of small tokens (buttons, cigarettes), the proud display of family photographs, the handshakes, the sharing of drink, the camaraderie of those who had volunteered to fight an enemy and found themselves looking at mirror images.  They even buried their dead together.

The Narrator told us poignantly of letters between lovers, amazement at the turn of events; complemented by a range of songs that echoed the loneliness, longing and loss of the men whose Christmas dinner treat was bacon dip.  It couldn’t last, of course.  Friendship was again transformed by word of command into hate.  But the performance was done with a light touch and never became maudlin or miserable, much more a testament to the humanity of man.

The packed audience at the New Headingley Club sat in their own silence, rapt in a familiar  story written by real people, real words, real emotion.  “A really moving event”, “so very professional” and “thank you so much for this opportunity” were just some of the many words of praise for this premiere performance for LitFest.  It will be performed again; catch it if you can.

Sally Bavage

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