Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales


Patrick Jones writes on the genesis of his latest play "the war is dead long live the war"

It is 1980 and I am in a hot classroom we are reading Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”- I am haunted by his words. I am 15 years old. It is 1987 and I am coaching football at an RAF base in Germany- it is 7 a.m. I am out early running- I hear voices, shouting, look around and see four naked men running in a circle being screamed at by a sergeant in full regalia- I look away, disgusted and embarrassed at the spectacle of army life.

It is 2003 just before the Iraq war and my 7 year old son is watching the news, he runs up to me, upset and disturbed, buries his head into my chest and cries “I don’t want the war dad”- I feel hatred for Bush and Blair – I pick up my weapon…..and start writing.

Nothing major some may think, just life but those three moments and the fact that my grandfather and great grandfather(both of whom I never had to the chance to know) fought and were wounded in the unGreat War gave me the need to write a play which addresses the tragic absurdity of war .Albert Camus wrote that writers must “bear witness”, Arthur Miller that he hoped his plays made people feel “less alone” and so as I watch this atrophic unfolding of humanity, this alienation, this fake faced soundbitten world I set out to write something that would provoke, attack, maybe unify but ultimately attempt some reality, some tiny fragment of a truth.

For a week I immersed myself in WW1 poetry- Owen, Sassoon, Blunden, Gurney, my dad’s dusty history books and records of his father’s war experiences alongside the unending news reports, internet, pentagon briefings the banal aggression of Ari Fleischer, the avoidance of Rumsfeldt and machismo of Bush- and as the absurdity, lies and blind patriotism rose, Owen’s words returned in my head;
“What passing bells for those who die as cattle”
“I, too, saw God through mud”
“I am the enemy you killed, my friend”
The titles of his poems seemed so modern- “Futility”, “Exposure” “Anthem for doomed youth” and of course the timeless “Dulce Et Decorum Est”.Like a split screen I see WW1 I see Iraq- the play evolves- night after night after my children go to sleep I turn rage into ink trying to distil a narrative from such a fractured story. In two weeks the play is finished- 2 men who will never meet in real life are created and placed in a placeless place- it is their world, it is our world….and they are fighting for their lives. People sneer when I tell them I’ve written an anti- war play “What’s the point….we won…write something funny”

“For the next war “I reply. For the last three years I have been obsessed, as writers are allowed to be, with two subjects- fathers being denied equal rights with their children post divorce/separation and war ( and its aftermath refugees,asylum ,nationalism, borders,death,empire) – and in a strange dislocated way both issues are intricately linked- perhaps because they are both about small bitter people who use power and aggression as a mask for their pain, failure and insecurity and this play is about masculinity, the dark brooding scars of maleness and the unspoken pain inflicted.

This play is not about just the Iraq war or Blair and Bush or Hussein- it is against the futile waste of mankind, against the absurdity of bullets, bombs, khaki uniforms- it is against Prince Phillip wearing rows of medals, against the Queen on Remembrance Sunday, it is against men involved in fox hunting being excused from active duty in WW1,it is against ignorant people giving men white feathers, it is against 2 minutes silence in this century of screams and yes it is against what has just happened- it is against Bush controlling our foreign policy it is against a Labour leader lying to his people, it is against the lies of war – it is saying “ if we are the saviours of the world well let us SAVE people in Palestine, Kosovo, Rwanda, Seirra Leone, Chechnya, Zimbabwe…..Britain.” it is asking how we can send back genuine asylum seekers yet bomb their country and I wrote it in honour of my grandfather gassed at the Somme, my great grandfather who also fought at that same battle, for those 4 naked soldiers demeaned in Germany I wrote it for Wilfred Owen for his beautiful words and I wrote it for my three young sons in the hope they will never go to fight in another man’s war.

That is the background to the piece- I then sent it to Sally Gritton at Sorted Productions who will direct and if it wasn’t for her passion and belief in it then it wouldn’t exist as within one week she had bookings at London’s ICA and Blackwood’s Miner’s Institute( who are great supporters of my work) with guest speakers such as Karl Francis and George Galloway at most performances alongside bookstalls, Stop the War Coalition speakers and stalls, bands playing, workshops and readings and all this with no funding (except donations from some very committed people) and the company’s costs being recouped after the run.It is a collective response to private anguish and the result will be a communal meeting of minds that either fracture or fuse and create levels of disturbance within the audience and in my opinion that is what theatre should attempt to do.

I had told James Bradfield about the play late one night and he said he had goosebumps and because he’s a workaholic a good but harrassed friend and a genius at playing the guitar he agreed to create a soundtrack for the play and when I heard it I had goosebumps and the melding of music, lighting, text and actors is truly inspiring.

This play is my witness statement to today and I feel as if in some way I am carrying on in the tradition of Owen, Sassoon, Heller, Gorecki, Levi and I hope it will question and make us uncomfortable and ultimately, I hope it may us feel “less alone”. It is not political propaganda but a scream against inhumanity and as THE WAR IS DEAD LONG LIVE THE WAR starts rehearsals and James plays his guitar no weapons of mass destruction have been found, an inquiry into David Kelly’s death is underway, Blair’s sincerity is under suspicion, a huge bomb blast kills 15 people in Iraq and a British Ambulance man is killed, I read Wilfred Owen’s words;
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory
The old lie; Dulce et Decorum Est
Pro Patria mori”

I pick up my weapon and write.

From; “White Feather Fallopian”
(a poem/speech from The War is Dead, Long live the War)

into the vortex of the void
upon the insignia of your collar
is the flower of the flower
by the flag of the destroyed
but from the wounds of knowledge
we find the knowledge of wounds
an incendiary creation
from bullets guns and shells
the white feather grows
from the mouths of graves
from the arteries of the dispossessed
into the minds of the defenceless
through the mud of the trenches
Soliloquies of the Somme
The verses of the Verdun
The prayers of Paschendale
From eyes myopian
In countries utopian
Grows the white feather
Colourless and borderless
White feather fallopian,

author:Patrick Jones

original source:
28 August 2003


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