REVIEW: Alnwick Theatre Club pay poignant tribute to fallen

Alnwick Theatre Club present Requiem at St James' Church.
Alnwick Theatre Club present Requiem at St James' Church.

It may have only been an idea conceived five weeks ago, but Alnwick Theatre Club's touching tribute to those who gave their lives in the First World War was indeed a triumph.

Sombre yet humorous, with moving moments and even talk of sexual encounters, Requiem, held at St James's Church in Alnwick, was a combination of stories, songs, poems and prose relating to the First World War and the centenary of the Armistice.

It saw 12 members of the club, fittingly dressed in black with poppies on their chests and red folders to guide them through, thoroughly captivate the audience.

Two hours listening to the stories of men who went to war, the women who spent all day in munitions factories, children who wrote to their fathers, poetry and songs felt like two minutes.

Each member of the cast took their turn in reading a passage from a letter or story, a poem or a song - and they put passion and emotion into those readings. It was particularly nice that they worked together in some of the stories with different members taking on different roles such as the soldier and his commander.

The saddest of all, and one which made me well up, had to be John Firth's portrayal of a letter written by a soldier to his daughter Marjory, in which he said he wouldn't be home for Christmas and she would have to make do with Santa that year. He asked her to send him more pictures to 'line the sandbags' and spoke lovingly of her. He died in 1917, in his pocket a picture of his three daughters was found.

But there were also tales of humour. Take Frau Schmidt's letter to her husband's commanding officer, read by Susan Joyce. She asked for her husband to be granted leave for one, just one, sexual encounter, and she simply couldn't go on any longer! Susan was also the narrator for the performance which worked well to segment the different stories.

There too were tales of camaraderie between the English and German soldiers. Peter Biggers read a lovely piece about soldiers in the trenches at Christmas, The Germans could be heard singing Silent Night, and then the English joined in - but the two nations took turns. Then, one German soldier jumped on top of the trenches and shouted 'Happy Christmas' and for a few seconds there was a feeling of unity before the fighting began again.

There were tales of the invasions of fleas, flies and rats, and awful conditions in which men had to survive, day after day, month after month.

And stories of men, aged as young as 16 who made it through to trenches by posing as 19-year-olds, showing such bravery. heroism and dedication to fight for their country.

Work from famous war poets and observers of the time such as Wilfrid Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Vera Brittain were read and there was gentle music to accompany some of the sections.

And of course a special mention was made to the hundreds of men from Alnwick and the surrounding areas that answered the call to arms and gave their lives to the war in often meaningless slaughter.

In particular Jimmy Dodds told of the moving story of Private Joseph Pickard of the Northumberland Fusiliers who was horrifically injured, but survived and went on to be a watchmaker, running a shop in Alnwick until the Second World War.

Jimmy also read a story he had written about his best mate Radford - who he met int the trenches, who just so happened to be a rat! And he sang a song and played his ukelele as another tribute piece.

From the women's side of the war there were tales of munitions workers who were constantly yellow, the female butcher, van drivers, those who made milk deliveries and more. There too were stories of the ill effects of the war, mental health issues and shell shock.

Accompanied by moving pictures of the front line, including one of Alnwick Camp and many from the trenches, every single aspect was covered and it was an immensely fitting tribute to this weekend's centenary.

And it ended poignantly with Laurence Binyon's We Will Remember Them and a one minute silence as a mark of respect.

Director Carol Lawrence should be congratulated for putting together such a moving performance in such a short amount of time, and the entire cast put emotion into what must have been a difficult yet very rewarding production.

All proceeds from the performance will be donated to the Royal British Legion.

CAST: Carol Lawrence (director), Susan Joyce, Trevor Hughes, Nicky Hunter, Peter Biggers, John Firth, Julie Vint, Jimmy Dodds, Mary Frater, Jean Goodfellow, Glenda Fricke, Lesley Waters, Carol Robb (Pianoforte).