For my final evening of challenge week I thought it was only right that I head to the Globe, especially as they were putting on a Remembrance-based event to mark the centenary of Armistice Day: Shakespeare and Remembrance (“The harsh and boist’rous tongue of war”).
Now, this is more my fault than anything, but I presumed that the biggest focus would be on First World War tributes – not a big assumption to make, given the centenary – but if I’d read one particular part of the blurb on the website then I would’ve seen that is was described as “an evening of performances that will pit Shakespeare’s imagined experience of war against the realities of twenty-first century military life”. Oh. Not exactly what I had in mind! I did think that a range of things would be spoken about, because that seems to be the way with Remembrance Day now, but that World War One (and Shakespeare) would be at the centre.
And I think that it was a bit of a mistake not to do that, actually. Of all the centenaries that have come and gone over the past few years, this is the big year – 100 years since the First World War ended, and the bloodshed all came to a stop. As well as marking the occasion, it’s a semi-celebratory time as we remember that 1918 heralded peace. Having modern-day servicemen and women telling us more of these stories would have its own poignancy. I also simply want to know more about them, as 1918 is a completely unknown time to us; many were conscripted rather than actively choosing to fight, which is not something we are familiar with nowadays.
I did enjoy the opening of the show, with Cassidy Little reading an extract from In Memoriam, timed to join the ringing of church bells around the country. Whilst a scene featuring the Mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream was very entertaining, I’m slightly confused as to what it was doing there! Though Tom Leigh and Philip Spencer were hilarious as Peter Quince and Nick Bottom, with some great comic timing & characterisation.
Other chosen bits of Shakespeare made a lot more sense to me, such as Henry V (which is set mostly around the Battle of Agincourt), Much Ado About Nothing (as the men come back from fighting in an anonymous war), and Titus Andronicus (a famed Roman general). There was a nice mixture of staged scenes and speeches – with some soliloquies broken down to relate to each person’s particular story.
Probably my favourite section of the night was Neil Davies right near the end. Taking a speech from Titus Andronicus, he talked us through an experience that he still lives with – but with a great sense of humour and humanity. It’s also quite satisfying that he found Shakespeare’s words far more relatable than he could ever have imagined, showing just how insightful a writer he truly was. Davies’ words “war is pointless, but Shakespeare’s not” are definitely what I will take away from the evening.