Of all the memorials and remembrance services, exhibitions, and displays this year, I think I have found the most subtle, touching tribute.
The poppies at the Tower of London, The Culture Show, nationwide parades; England was overcome this year by a desperate longing to remember the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen and women who lost their lives during the First World War. Certain *ahem* supermarkets were even audacious enough to use the World War centenary year as an opportunity to explain how the Christmas Day truce of 1914 between German and English soldiers missing their loved ones and terrified for their lives was similar to said supermarket promoting a message of ‘sharing is caring.’
This aside, 99% of the performances, displays, shows, exhibitions, televised broadcasts and speeches have been genuine, un-manipulated demonstrations of remembrance. Nothing more so that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s interpretation of Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Yes, yes. Shakespeare, really?
Bear with me here! It is a normal (top-notch) production, with a normal (outstanding) cast, and a normal (quality) set. But this, my dear friends, is not the important part. The entire production screams 1910s, be it the dresses or the music or the furniture. Only in the last five minutes as The Princess and her ladies bid farewell to their loves for twelve months and day did the audience notice the change of tone. While the cast were singing, their tones and their faces grew sombre. The lighting darkened and a sense of foreboding seemed to creep into the theatre. We as the audience had come to love the charades of these men and their loveable, friendly natures, and so to see them emerge in British Officers’ uniforms almost had us collectively hold our breath at this horrible realisation. It was only then that we had an inkling, just the tiniest sense of what it must have felt to watch a husband, a son, a father put on his uniform and walk off into the deep recesses of war. Really, the scariest feeling was a feeling of the unknown, not really understanding what was going on until they were there, in front of our eyes in their uniforms.
As a piece of theatre, Christopher Luscombe deserves a hearty round of applause. As a service of remembrance, he deserves a standing ovation. It is easy to stand at the back of a church service and agree that the concept, the faraway, distant idea of war is tragic. But to even come close to feeling the real, anguished and horrified feelings of British citizens during World War One is a whole other theatrical and social achievement.
In case anyone is curious, Love’s Labour’s Lost runs until 14 March 2015 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. And no, this is not sponsored in any way.