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30 June 2014

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Meanwhile in another muddy field

Artichoke Communications Officer JoJo was back on home turf last weekend for a moving performance exploring life in the trenches during WWI...

Something special happened in a muddy field last weekend.  No, I wasn’t welly-clad on Worthy Farm.  I was in Monmouthshire, South Wales for National Theatre Wales’ latest production Mametz.  Written by Welsh poet Owen Sheers, it was a site specific piece based on the Battle of Mametz Wood in France.  One of the bloodiest battles of WWI, a staggering 4,000 men of the 38th (Welsh) Division were either killer or wounded as they tried to gain control of the forest.

I grew up in Monmouthshire, and went along to the performance with my dad, whose interest in all things WWI grows by the day but is a lot harder to please when it comes to theatre.  Set amongst the beautiful surroundings of Great Llancayo Wood just outside Usk, we found ourselves being led through a trench and then to a pair of old farm buildings which had been converted into makeshift performance spaces.  The story focused on a group of young soldiers, some from Wales, others with Welsh ancestry who were desperate to fight, all frighteningly young and under-prepared, now facing the terror of the wood in front of them.  We got to know these characters, their mothers, wives and lovers, before following them ‘over the top’ of the trench to battle, for an intense finale in the wood itself. 

As we made our way along rain began to hammer down on us.  But the cold and wet felt incredibly fitting, as we watched these characters drag themselves through the mud to an inevitably violent demise, some by their own shells, or by a bayonet. 

It was 100 years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that very same day. It made you think about relatives and the part they played in the war who are no longer with us, nor are their stories. I know my dad was as moved by Mametz as I was, thinking about his own grandparents experiences and then his parents in the following WW2. Here was immersive, site-specific theatre helping us to remember, to imagine the horror of life in the trenches, and the futile, uselessness of war.  ‘War is the end of dialogue’ one of the characters said, I couldn’t agree more.

Mametz was one of the first events of 14-18 NOW a cultural pogramme of events to mark the centenary of WW1.  

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