Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

THEY SHALL NOY GROW OLD

Old Soldier

Parthian Books & Newscience , Neath Little Theatre , November-16-18
Old Soldier by Parthian Books & Newscience The words of Frank Richards help ensure that We Shall Remember Them.
While the war poets are rightly revered, the prose of writers such as Richards – born in Monmouthshire and raised in the South Wales valleys – add invaluable flesh to the skeletal horrors of life in the trenches during the First World War.
Old Soldier is an act of remembrance woven out of extracts from Richards’s two memoirs – Old Soldier Sahib and Old Soldiers Never Die (both republished by Parthian Books’ Library of Wales Scheme) – augmented by additional material from his daughter, Margaret Holmes, and adapted by Jeff Teare.
Richards, who first joined the army as a 17-year-old in 1901, served in India and Burma before being called up as a reservist in 1918. He became one of only a handful of men on The Western Front, from the Second Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, to experience every day of the devastating four-year-long conflict, having taken part in almost every major campaign of the war.
He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal for bravery but, like so many of our war heroes, always maintained he was only doing his job.
Having resisted all offers of promotion, Richards - unlike the majority of his literary contemporaries who were officers - was able to paint a unique rank and file view of a private on the front line.
The two-hander, hour long performance is both humorous and heart-breaking containing anecdotes such as how Richards was awarded one of his medals for making numerous excursions through no man’s land during one attack in order to keep a line of communications open, how he witnessed two officers running for their lives back to safety when the shelling began and how he ventured forward to shake the hands of the enemy one Christmas time.
The piece is made more relevant by new material – written by his daughter especially for this production – that helps portray how, unlike the sound of guns, the after effects of war never fall silent.Neath Little Theatre is a charming space which, with its almost village hall feel, fitted the period perfectly and while the staging was minimal, the space was more than filled by the powerful words.
While Peter Jackson’s remarkable ‘colourised’ film, They Shall Not Grow Old, is rightly being praised for bringing home the true horrors of the trenches, Old Soldier - helped by the skilful delivery of the equally talented Andrew Lennon (Richards) and Alison Lenihan (daughter) – paints an almost equally graphic picture of the pathetically termed ‘war to end all wars’.
This was a worthy act of remembrance and there is little doubt that all those who took time to see this poignant performance will recall this moving and poignant performance for years to come.

Reviewed by: Geraint Thomas

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