HINDSIGHT is a wonderful thing – we wouldn’t have done that or said that or thought that, would we? But for the young women who went out to nurse in the First World War, the reality and horror that they encountered was so different from the glorious battle that their mothers and sisters were promoting that they could not reconcile the two. Hindsight happened very quickly.
Kate Luard, a nurse whose letters have been edited into a book, was one of the voices in Women Of World War One, a thoughtful new performance with music, words and film, put together by pianist Jacquelyn Bevan of Trio Paradis and actor and singer Petra Schofield of Magic Penny Productions.
Luard’s descriptions of the horrific and frequently fatal injuries she sees in the field hospital on the Western Front – and the courage of the young soldiers – are harrowing.
The production began its tour at Bridport Arts Centre to an enthusiastic and interested, albeit small, audience who were lulled into the horrors to come by a charming Edwardian piece, Soir by Mel Bonis.
As the performance progressed, the tone of the music became darker, most notably in Mel Bonis’ Cathedrale blessee (remembering the war damage to Rheims Cathedral) and Rebecca Clarke’s powerful Piano Trio.
The project was initiated by Jacquelyn, with the Trio Paradis (violinist Jamie Hughes and cellist Cressida Nash), to perform works from the Great War by women composers such as Dame Ethel Smyth, Lili and Nadia Boulanger, Alma Mahler and Amy Beach. There would also be readings from the period from letters, journals, newspapers and memoirs.
With additional writings researched by Petra Schofield who acts as co-narrator with actress and singer Barbara Ingledew, women’s experience is brought to vivid life, whether through the songs of Vesta Tilley and Marie Lloyd or the letters or memories of munitions workers, nurses, mill-workers, debutantes or journalists.
And throughout there are short films and photographic stills by Polly Nash and Liberty Smith, underlining the impact of the words and music, but never distracting.
It is a deeply felt and fascinating piece, giving an insight into the lives of women of the period, at the front and at home, and of the variety and quality of work by women composers in the early 20th century. Visit the website www.petraschofield.co.uk or www.musicianssouthwest.com for more details of the tour. FC