Monday, 24 March 2014

The way theatre should be

Echoes of Warpartnership event with Theatre of the Dales
Saturday 22 March 7.30 pm
New Headingley Club

Sally Bavage writes, with help from audience commentary:
Stuart Fortey
I first started to write this blog after coming home from a wonderful evening of thought-provoking drama, but realised that I had so many images and lines swirling in my brain that it was far better to write after reflection.  These two plays, scripted by our local gifted playwrights Stuart Fortey (On Scarborough Front) and Peter Spafford (The Edge of the Forest), were wonderful, engaging stories, [which] drew me in and made me want to know more/wonder what happened next.  Me too.

Three actors play in two time frames with one theme – the dilemma of how to find what you value in yourself.  In the first play, a shell-shocked Wilfred Owen eventually volunteers to go back to the front; he sees writing as an act of atonement and knew that he needed to overcome his reputation of cowardice in order to give his work weight and credence. The work lives on, of course; he didn’t and his parents received his death notice on November 11th, 1918.  Poetic.  The second play, a longer and more complex piece, has a character called Robert, a disturbing and destabilising influence on those around him, who is both a rather unctuous modern estate agent chasing a sale from a pair of siblings and Robert Frost the American poet who influences Edward Thomas, at 37 approaching middle age, to volunteer and leave his wife and three children. Both Roberts see words and images as means to an end – their end – and it is the Roberts who survive. Did Owen really want to use the front line as inspiration for his poetry?  Did a depressed and doomed Thomas go to war because he was bored?  

Peter Spafford

On Scarborough Front was a gripping two-hander with Stuart Fortey, both scriptwriter and Lieutenant-Colonel Gray, and Will Rastall as the gifted but tortured Wilfred Owen.  Gripping...  Spellbinding... (that word again). Powerful... Highly imaginative... The audience were glad of the interval to gather their thoughts and emotions for the second half.

The Edge of the Forest was written and performed by Peter Spafford, who plays Mev/Edward Thomas.  It allows Beth Kilburn as Beth/Helen Thomas to once again display her range for sympathetic characterisation and sublety.  Will Rastall plays Robert/Robert Frost with beguiling charm that segues into mind-game manipulation. 

Afterwards, the audience lingered long to discuss and savour the nuances of plot and character with the cast and each other, belatedly filing out into the cold evening exuding much warmth for the acting and the superb quality of the drama to which they had borne witness.  As one audience member commented: I had thought - £6 for some amateur thing!  Not sure I’ll come - but was worth every penny; the stories will stay with me.  Will tell friends about it – so glad all this is on my doorstep!

Beth Kilburn
Our thanks are due to the New Headingley Club for allowing us such generous rehearsal time, to volunteer Tom Stanley from Leeds University who came along to help with the organisation and, of course, to the Theatre of the Dales who once again provided new work for Headingley LitFest of such high quality. For more information visit or ring David Robertson on 2740461.

Other audience comments – from many all so very positive - include:
Great to have two splendid but very different local playwrights in action being heard.  An excellent programme, beautifully performed.  Well worth putting on and much more important than merely a Headingley triumph.

A complex play despite the small cast which skilfully switched between characters very well.

Absolutely riveting, powerful performances and very moving.

A brilliant moving evocation of the effects of war.

I was enormously impressed by the quality of the writing and acting – this was my first LitFest event.  I will certainly come to more.

Two very different plays, both highly imaginative and very interesting ‘takes’ on a familiar subject. Great acting made for an excellent evening.

It is still very relevant to question what ties us emotionally to place and time, and whether war is an effective way of resolving differences.  Unfortunately, the question has to be asked by both sides to a dispute.

Brilliant, engrossing from the start.  The way theatre should be.  Skilled and audible.

An evening which deserves to be repeated many times during this year of commemoration.

Each play was spellbinding – each powerful with its own essence.  Authentic is the word that comes up immediately after they aired.  A sense of depth and experience that shakes me – they each hold the reality of the effect of war.  I know more about it now – even though I thought I did before.

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