Tuesday, 19 January 2021

REVIEW: Bully Beef & Whizzbangs for the Living Record Festival

The Living Record Festival is a celebration of ground-breaking grassroots digital art happening between the 17th of January and 22nd February 2021 with a range of audio stories available to listen in to at home. My first visit to the Festival was for the World War One play Bully Beef and Whizzbangs commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War and set in 1916 in a front-line trench on the Somme.

Over the years since the end of the War there have been some powerful and moving plays written about the events in France and Flanders. The 1928 play Journeys End by RC Sheriff remains one of the finest dramatic portrayals of life in the trenches and the 2007 play War Horse portrays the conflict on a more epic scale. The 1963 musical 'Oh what a lovely war' brilliantly combined a music hall style presentation with a sharp critic of the General’s tactics and more recently in 2016 Wipers Times by Hislop and Newman comically told the story of the front-line publication that soldiers produced in Ypres. This new play written and directed by Chris Hawley takes a closer more personal view of a soldier who has been on the front line since the start of the was in 1914 and last went home to blighty over a year before. It has the feel of Verbatim Theatre, a view of survival through one mans eyes and the interactions he has with fellow soldiers during a lull in hostilities.

Corporal Henry “Harry” Sprigett (played by Callum Smiles) sounds an optimistic Yorkshire man who learnt to live in the eye of the battle by pacing himself each day with occasional letters from home from his wife of six years and three kids but underneath the strain of war is beginning to tell. The play mainly features long chats with a newly arrived Private Richard “Smudger” Smith (played by Sam Claridge) who signed up underage having been inspired to do so by Vesta Tilly at the local theatre in Hackney. His words of advice to the new recruit on how to survive seem destined to fall on death ears as the young boy’s gung-ho na├»ve approach to war and desire to shoot the Hun.

Their dialogue is interrupted by the arrival of an orderly (David McCulloch) with a package from home, the Posh Officer (played by Michael Grist) with his words of encouragement “Good, Good” and warnings to “keep the bally things dry” and the Chaplain (Peter McCrohon) debating whose side God might be on. The conversations neatly bring out the grim realities of the war, the deserter Pickles who was simply “not up to it”, the death of Sergeant Bridges and the 1914 Christmas Truce.

When you are left to imagine the scene radio play, more help is need with sounds of location. There is a good Pathe News style introduction, but generally it sounds too quiet with only occasional whizzbangs and even if there was a silence over the battlefield with no birds, it needed more effects whether the sound of squelching mud, pouring liquids, or clinking rifles to make it feel like we were in the bunker with them.

You do get a sense of the futility of battle tactics and the contrasting feelings of doing your bit for the country and fear and stress of the battle, but that is better portrayed in Journeys End. There is a good twist at the end which makes it worthwhile staying the distance and listening to the whole 1 hour 6 minutes and while we can’t get to the theatre it does bring a little bit of drama into our homes.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £1.50
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