Pros: Solid acting in parts with good affinity between the actors. An evocative setting in an enticing studio space.
Cons: The perplexing blend of poetry and frequent scene shifts.
Prepared to be baffled by this mix of WWI poetry, interspersed with a veteran’s real life story. Suitable for those already familiar with the poems or those up for a neighbourhood play between drinks.
Voices is a two-person drama that infuses the words and memoirs of soldiers who fell in the Great War. Produced by Cordial Productions, this one-hour performance takes place in the alluring black-walled studio of the Lion & Unicorn theatre that sits atop an impressive gastro pub in Kentish Town.
The story is based on the experiences of WW1 veteran Alfred ‘Alf’ Razzell, a member of the Royal Fusiliers, who only late in life came to share his experiences of his time at The Battle of the Somme. In the play, two veterans meet, dressed in British trench coats, but the ghostly quality of their interactions suggest we are actually in the figment of one man’s imagination. The unresolved trauma comes from Alf’s attempt to save a fellow soldier William Bill Hubbard whom he had befriended, but had to leave in no man’s land. World War One poetry and soldier songs, such as ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’, dominate this story. You truly get a shared sense of the rituals and rites that united servicemen under the most extreme of conditions.
The theatre space and set design was simple and soul-stirring. A wooden table empty chairs and a single lit candle hinted at an encounter that both had already happened and was about to happen. It was nice to be reminded of the power of candlelight and its ability to summon up the intimacies and hidden depths of human experience. The folded letters and cigarette butts scattered around the central scene added to the ghostly atmosphere and the haunting nature of troubling memories.
Alas, once the play began and despite my best attempts, I was confused pretty much all the way through. The confusion, which emerged from the shifts in character and over where the characters were situated in time and space, meant I ended up fatigued by the poem-after-poem formula. With my tolerance lowered, the parts that did seem to make sense remained almost impenetrable. This was a shame given that there was some solid acting from both actors, particularly from Anthony Cord. Perhaps the fast pace and poor enunciation of some of the poetry was also a factor. However, the powerful blue and red lighting and deft staging helped to give a sense of the intensity of battle and brought to life some of the difficulties servicemen endured – such as the wounded who dictated letters oblivious to the fact that it would be their last.
Overall, Voices is an evocative piece of drama. But – it could have benefited from greater expression of the poetry and more attention to situating the characters within the central narrative – a story so noteworthy that Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters penned a track ‘The Ballad of Bill Hubbard’ for his ‘Amused to Death’ album. Aficionados of WW1 poetry or the experiences of war veterans may be able to follow and draw on the subtleties of this piece; they were definitely there, but I just was not able to grasp them. The spectral quality of the piece may appeal to anyone up for a neighbourhood play and a change of mood between drinks.