(4 / 5)
A timely reminder of the supreme sacrifice that people from the South Wales valleys made during World War 1 is reenacted at Pontypridd Museum.
Written and presented by Avant Cymru the company’s intention is to inspire the valley’ communities by recalling the past, to discuss the present and create the future.
Pontypridd Museum, itself currently showing a WW1 exhibition and its many links to the social history of the area, proves to be an ideal setting for performing this play.
The action begins by Reverend Richards (Matthew Bool) conducting a service, which basically provides the opportunity to sing perennial favourite Welsh Hymns such as “Calon Lan” and “Cwm Rhondda” and the English hymn, “Abide with Me”. Accompaniment is provided by David Hutchings playing the fine organ in situ. Thankfully there isn’t a collection. The Reverend then provides a brief firebrand sermon reminding the congregation forcefully and passionately about their responsibilities at this time of great social turmoil. He turns on young mother Catrin Williams who it seems had a boy aged thirteen attacking her moral behaviour,
The action continues at different locations around the museum. You witness the recruiting sergeant, (Yannick Budd), and the issues that prevented some men from enlisting. The urging by Catrin that her son lie about being under-aged so that he could be safer fighting at The Front compared to the inevitable going down the mines.
The action moves downstairs to re-enact a scene at the Front Line, although I don’t think the men depicted would have lasted very long at that place, failing to keep their head under the parapet.
The scene is very loud which is as it should be because it was the incessant shelling and gunfire, (sounds that carried from the trenches to South-East England), that was the reason why many of the soldiers succumbed to neurasthenia, (shell-shock).
Emerging from the depths the final scene takes place at the local post office run by Emily Davies, (Cler Stephens) reveals the anxieties of families awaiting news of their loved ones from The Front.
The mixed professional and amateur actors play their characters with conviction and production values are high with realistic costumes and excellent sound.
I watched the performance in the well-behaved company of primary school children from two local schools. I noted that the boys were in their element when they were being drilled by the sergeant and at the scene at The Front, whilst the girls seemed a little nervous and distracted there but were more engaged with the Post Office scene. A nice touch was to present the entire audience with a red poppy at the end which you then pressed on to a board near the exit, so that you could pay your respects to your ancestors and remember all who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Patient research by the production team has revealed diaries and poems that were written by local soldiers and this provided a strong connection to the audience, by its Welsh flavour.
This hour-long play is a brilliant way to convey the terrible time that any war brings to local communities particularly to children. It’s intentions are magnificent and I cannot praise it enough.