By @Tobias Harris - Media Consultant for MESH Theatre Co
The immersive Battlefields production of Journey’s End is as educational as it is entertaining. It provides a direct window into trench warfare, showing the lived experience of WW1 by sharing history through personal narratives.
R.C. Sherriff’s seminal play is a famously authentic depiction of WW1 as he was the only playwright to have fought in the war. This privileges the play with intimate access to the silenced truths of countless fallen soldiers. Live theatre, like no other medium, has the power to unpack and personalise histories that may be component parts of larger, national narratives. This play puts faces and personalities to the macro event of World War One. Sherriff’s story is fictional, but equally it is real, provoking young audiences to engage with relatable ‘stock’ characters – from funny-man Mason to cheery, chubby Trotter to the avuncular Osborne, or the quaking German Prisoner - but who are also surprisingly subtle. Moreover, the play is set in a real historic event (Operation Michael, 1918), which heightens its representation of history through active remembrance.
Particularly, in the context of the centenary, this event has the power to excavate difficult truths of which it is wise to be reminded. Dramatic performance can provide a forum to challenge dominant historical narratives, which can allow people to raise issues that current and future generations may otherwise fail to address. By putting actors and audiences in a bunker together on the Belgian Battlefields to discover this potent story together, empowerment and education become symbiotic. In so doing, people may begin to recognise that each person, both individually and collectively, alters the path of history. This matters because the way we view our histories determines how we view the present and future.
Live theatre offers an interactive method for young people to associate with our past, evoking immediate ‘3-D’ context for the present.. History does not have to simply be a top-down recollection of dates and facts. History through drama engages in multiple ways, serving to inspire rather than merely lecture.