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Armchair Reviewers Club - Round up of Week 8 (It Is Easy To Be Dead)

Hello, and welcome back to the Armchair Reviews Club. This week we looked at It Is Easy To Be Dead by Neil McPherson.

Born in Aberdeen, Charles Sorley was studying in Germany when the First World War broke out and was briefly imprisoned as an enemy alien. He was one of the first to join the army in 1914, and tragically was killed in action just one year later at the age of 20. His poems are among the most ambivalent, profound and moving war poetry ever written.

I must admit, I knew the work of the big names of war poetry such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, however I wasn’t aware of Charles Sorley’s work at all. However, hearing his work performed in such a powerful way was particularly moving:

From the hills and valleys earth
Shouts back the sound of mirth,
Tramp of feet and lilt of song
Ringing all the road along.
All the music of their going,
Ringing swinging glad song-throwing,
Earth will echo still, when foot
Lies numb and voice mute.
On, marching men, on
To the gates of death with song.
Sow your gladness for earth’s reaping,
So you may be glad, though sleeping.
Strew your gladness on earth’s bed,
So be merry, so be dead.

All The Hills and Vales Along

‘I really enjoyed the incorporation of his letters and poems into the piece. His word emphasise his conflict with the war. Powerfully performed with some wonderful music to accompany it.’

Graham via Email.

And here are your thoughts on this week’s production:

‘The use of the small space was extremely effective: an intricate space, yet creating various distinct spaces. Due to the intensity of each performer, I was totally transfixed on each section of the stage. I don’t know if the music worked on every occasion, sometimes just the simplicity of his work would have created enough of an effect. However, I appreciate the way it helped with the tone of the scenes and the era that the play was set.

I look forward to reading his work in full – such an insightful vision of life during this time, and all from someone who died at 20.’

Jo via Email

‘I liked the effective use of space: we were given calm studies in Oxford, lively cinemas in Germany, and chaotic battlefields. The effective use of lighting and projection helped with this, particularly with the battlefields towards the end of the piece. It was loud, uncomfortable and scary, I really enjoyed the intensity of these moments – highlighting the brutal reality of war. Kudos to the sound designer too, the relentless machine guns drumming along to Sorley’s words, not drowning out but adding a layer of authenticity to it.

It is a powerful and poignant piece that asks the question of what it means to be patriotic and at what cost? Questions that sadly we are still asking ourselves 100 years later.’

Graham via Email

I’ve particularly enjoyed this reviewer’s contribution, highlighting a local memorial stone relating to Sorley:

‘Isolated by a hill-track cross roads, not all that far from Newbury, is a small, understated memorial stone. Understated but thought-provoking, like the quiet space of the Finborough stage.

The memorial is easily lost, like the reputation of this poet. But birds will be chirruping there, just as we heard nature in the song cycles that punctuated this modest production. Modesty can bring impact where it may be least expected, as it does here. The stone memorial to Sorley was carved by the College that we learn, he rejected. Not that we’d know that from the poet’s almost unknown work and history, so carefully crafted and brought to the fore in this production.

Neil McPherson shows fine artistic balance. The tragedy of Sorley’s short life in the grief of his parents and songs the poet would have heard. The tragedy of the loss of spirit and art with a sniper's bullet in 1915, like so many other losses. The strength in this production's fusing of those tragedies with the poet’s writings, the power of his feelings and - above all - the honesty of his values.’

Alison via Email

Thanks all for your wonderful comments and thoughts. It’s always interesting to hear.

Next week’s production, we’re going to look at Shakespeare’s Macbeth starring Christopher Eccleston as Macbeth and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth. It can be found on BBC Iplayer here:

As always, be sure to share what you think either via social media or by e-mailing [email protected]

Take care, Reviewers!

Dan Whateley

Programming and Events Coordinator