War Torn

Some thoughts.

For HH

Exactly a week ago as I write we were making our way from Cookham via Bagshot to Camberley Theatre to see a school production of the musical “War Torn” about the ‘futility of war and the difficulties faced by refugees when caught up in a war scenario.’

We had been invited because I had been to my son’s school last term to give a talk to the pupils about the war time experiences of my mother in Siberia and my mother in law in Ravensbruck. I was struck by their attention and empathy then. I was also invited to watch an early rehearsal of some of the scenes and was very impressed with the power of the language and the ability of the children to present the emotions through the action. But that was rehearsal and it could only get better.

So last week I was very excited to see the whole thing. We travelled from the school to the theatre on the children’s coach. I was very pleasantly surprised by how quiet they were.

Anyway we got to the theatre, got our tickets and the programme. I was delighted and embarrassed to be mentioned in the some paragraph as Martin Bell OBE. But very proud!

The play started and was absolutely gripping. It was hard to believe that the oldest actors were only twelve or thirteen years old. Their confidence and professionalism were extraordinary as was their stamina. Two hours of quite harrowing material – based on the plight of refugees in general but particularly Kosovo and recently Syria, meant that the children had to concentrate and project themselves almost superhumanly, I’d say. I am too much of a daydreamer to ever be able to do that sort of thing- I admired them all immensely. The music, composed and conducted by Andy Hiles, was haunting and difficult but very appropriate. The young voices were amazingly well developed and emotionally powerful.

The set, too, was impressive. Very minimalistic, most of it seemed to be made of bamboo or from the trees from the school garden. Particularly clever was the way the interior of the captain’s house was suggested, with just a bamboo window and door joined together.

The weightiness of the story (a family is fleeing from war in the night. The parents are shot dead and the baby is gathered up by the Captain who, childless, gives her to his cold wife. Two brothers also survive. Their story unfolds with many vicissitudes towards a tragic if beautiful ending. ) was relieved somewhat with little injections of humour: when Therese grows up and is at university the image of all girls together putting makeup on in the loo is brilliantly suggested by a bamboo frame working as a mirror back . The girls are facing the audience and we are peeking in on them.

The romantic element of the story was handled with great sensitivity by the young actors.

When the play finished it was hard to believe that that they were not even teenagers.

This very professional production was produced and directed by Hazel Hiles, a professional writer, musician and actor.

What was wonderful for me, as an ex teacher was how many children were involved. Originally meant for a cast of fifteen here there were about fifty children, all beautifully synchronised.

Yet this was a live performance and yes, there was one little blip. The brilliant thing was that the actors recovered almost immediately. And very cleverly.

It was a privilege to have been able to see this play, especially in this Holocaust anniversary week. Thank you, Hazel.

It is shocking still to think that so many atrocities caused by misunderstanding, hatred and war are continuing to affect thousands of people around the world.

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