Theatre in Wales

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Vivid...Genuine Sympathy...Impressive...Poignant”: Newport's Youngest Company with Something Very Different

At Flying Bridge Theatre

Flying Bridge Theatre Ltd- Between the Crosses , Army at the Fringe, Hepburn House , August 16, 2017
At Flying Bridge Theatre by Flying Bridge Theatre Ltd- Between the Crosses The cultures, political and artistic, of the three nations of the UK that are not England are very different. There is a small strand of connection in that the dramas of all three have addressed the armed forces. In Northern Ireland it was by default as the only area where the state for decades perforce deployed troops on its own territory. Scotland mounted “Black Watch”, a declarative statement of separateness from, and distaste for, the purposes of the Union. The armed forces are an important subject. An older generation of writers- Lodge, Frayn, Bennett- had direct experience of national service. For a younger generation the forces are far away in places of blurred purpose and moral difficulty.

The theatre of Wales has been, in character. less declamatory than Scotland but more engaged in human enquiry and sympathy. “Deep Cut” took one direction of documentary. Owen Sheers went deep into the culture and human cost with “the Two Worlds of Charlie F” and “Pink Mist.”

Flying Bridge's accompanying production to “Not About Heroes” can be understood as belonging to this context, the charity PTSDUK being part-beneficiary of the box- office receipts.

British Theatre Guide ****

While we lament on the doomed youth and heroise the tragic fallen in war, what becomes of those who never fell, but came home to a world lacking the understanding and the skill to help them?
This is one of the questions arising from Will Huggins's play “Between the Crosses” a surprisingly cheerful and occasionally laughter-provoking account of the late Edgar Huggins, a soldier in the Durham Light Infantry and survivor of World War One.

Through the use of a blackboard, a few pieces of chalk and a handful of props, Huggins recounts the history of his Great Uncle's journey through The Great War and obliquely shows the horrors untold through the real-life recorded account of the man, mercifully repeating the, at times, garbled and indistinct recordings made "with awful microphones" as well as enacting some conversations in full, and in accent.

It creates a vivid and personal picture of a very real man, with simple and achievable goals and the drive to complete them, a man whose life and plans were thrown hither and yon by war and yet, in years to come, he'd laugh, joke and be quite dismissive of the battles and death he'd seen.
Huggins manages to create a genuine sympathy for a man he clearly held dear, if never really knew, and within the scant details recorded on the Imperial War Museum interviews and the official war record, there's the story of a man, one hidden from view but utterly evoked by the performance.

The Wee Review ****

The Army’s arrival at the Fringe under the banner Army @ The Fringe and a partnership with Summerhall has been met with disagreement from certain quarters. “The mainstreaming of militarism within UK culture,” no less. You could say that. Or you could say that this is an open access arts festival and if the men and women of our armed forces wish to be part of it, fair play to them.

Besides, if this were a sinister plot to lead our innocent youth into the maw of the military-industrial complex rather than a very mild PR exercise, they’d do better than starting with a one man play about the horrors of World War I. “Between The Crosses by Wales’ Flying Bridge Theatre is essentially a theatrical lecture about one Durham Light Infantryman’s experience at Ypres and the Somme.

The man giving the lecture, Will Huggins, is the great-nephew of the soldier, Edgar Huggins, and it’s told using a recording made by the Imperial War Museum of the old man shortly before his death. Snippets from this recording enable Will to effectively “interview” Edgar to get a first hand account, while details from official reports provide an emotionless, and occasionally brutally objective, context. As Will says, both accounts concur on factual detail, but Edgar veers away at crucial junctures as if recoiling from the memory. In some ways, “Between The Crosses” aims to fill the gap of experience in between.

It’s accessibly and fluently delivered, with key points being noted on a large blackboard. A rattled-off history of World War I might have a few pedants hmm-ing, but sounds accurate to these ears, and conveys well the tragic domino effect of events. Similarly impressively, Duggan launches a detailed explanation of army structures and deployment, sketching troop movements on the board. It almost deliberately loses the audience in detail, but in so doing, makes its point about the chaos of war.

Huggins Jr. has a rare humility as a performer in not making it all about him. He puts Edgar front and centre, framing his words for maximum effect, and avoiding adding too much of his own interpretation to them. It’s a generous act. Edgar comes across as something of a star. He talks of his love of horses, which eventually came in handy, and of his ambition to travel to Australia, which sadly went unfulfilled. He’s less forthcoming on the war, playing down any talk of the privations he faced. There’s few of the cliches of trench life in here, mainly because Edgar himself doesn’t mention them.

There’s another poignant moment when Will reveals his nan, Edgar’s sister-in-law is being laid to rest this very day at the age of 101. This play makes a fitting tribute to her, Edgar and their whole generation.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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