first night

Goodbye Darling, God Bless You

Stephanie Stafford is moved by a trip to Hild Bede's war memorial.

On Tuesday evening, as the audience seated themselves around the Hild Bede war memorial, the clear and melancholic voice of a girl singing a wartime song carried through the night air.

Goodbye Darling, God Bless You, directed by Hanna Brennan and performed by the Hild Bede Theatre group, is a play based on a series of extracts from letters, poetry and diary entries of the First World War. Along with her own material, Hannah has created a unique exploration of relationships during the period, and the emotional trauma experienced by the soldiers and their loved ones.

Dialogues between characters, inspired by the extracts, are woven between recitals and readings. These different mediums move seamlessly from one to the next, complementing each other and creating a dynamic effect that brings us through an array of difficult and often contrasting emotions. A touching scene between two newlyweds, reunited while the soldier is on leave, brings an intimate and humourous touch. Followed by the letters of the King addressing the nation, the perspective is widened, and the tone becomes sombre. The poetry of Alan Seeger, recited superbly, captures the ever-looming shadow of death that hung over the era and everyone’s mind.

One exchange of correspondence stands out in particular: we gradually understand we are hearing a letter written by a female soldier who has shot down an enemy spy plane. Racked with guilt, she writes to the mother of the man she has killed, and we learn of the moving and unexpected response.

The staging was simple but stunningly effective. Two lights illuminated the war memorial from either side, casting a striking shadow across the stage and indeed the actors’ faces. The contrast of light and dark could not have been more fitting for the content; moments of laughter, tenderness and love are intertwined with the horror, grief and deep sadness of war.

The rain, disproving the pessimistic proverb, did not pour. Instead, the light drizzle served only to intensify the atmosphere. As did the chill in the air, condensing the actors’ breath as they spoke their moving words. The acting was flawless and thoroughly convincing. All delivered their lines with the feeling and gravitas they deserved. At the end, a trumpet sounded, and the actors in turn lay a rose on the memorial.

A lovely little touch was the programme itself, a brown envelope with a note from the director and some of the letters and poetry used in the play.  The titles – Letter dictated to nurse by dying soldier and I have a rendez-vous with death – sum up the powerful content of this performance.

Inspired by letters and poetry, and as she indeed mentions, some of her own family members, Hannah Brennan has painted a moving and poignant picture of the heartache of the era, that manages to be both personal and universal at once. The only shame is that the performance was for one night only. A success from last year, the play was redone with the original cast to give this year’s Freshers an introduction to theatre at Hild Bede.

The eleventh of November is a few weeks away, and the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal campaign starts today. Yet before the paper poppies start flowering on our jackets and coats, remembrance is already on my mind. 

 

Stephanie Stafford

 

24 October 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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