Before starting his show, Guy Masterson gives a short talk about his wish to commemorate the centenary of the final year of World War One by staging four shows in the Lest we forget series at this year’s Fringe in Adelaide. They are Mengele, Between the Crosses, Shell Shock and his own performance, Anthem for a Doomed Youth. The poem of that name by one of the most sensitive of the war poets, Wilfred Owen, is a beautiful, sad recognition that there are no funeral rites for those men “who die as cattle” in war. Guy had “trawled through” about 1,000 poems from both sides of no man’s land to show a soldier’s experience from the beginning to the end of the war. He mentioned the book by Erich Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front” as being rich with good material he was able to use.
And so this is a compilation of poetry and prose with short readings about the authors in between, the latter sometimes given too fast and casually. We certainly are given a fair range of material to give us an insight into the rank stench, the rats, lice, endless rain, bodies in the trenches, yearning for home, the horrible wounds and ghastly deaths, the vile, cruel, terrifying gas and the forever present mud – thick, slimy, stinking, clinging, drowning mud. Sometimes though, we are not sure who wrote what when more than one is given following the other. Guy has a growly voice and especially at full volume, as it often is in this show, it is unsuitable for some of the tenderer pieces he chose to recite. It isn’t until he gives us “The Mortars” by Curt Bennett that his Welsh accent is in there and I thought “Dylan Thomas” as he spoke the second verse. It worked very well.
The men melt to the ground,
Scrambling, crabbing leaving the trail
High, thin-screamed, louder, whistling wail
The men cower, cringing low
They clench their necks, await the blow
That erupts with such a smashing "crack",
That rings the ears and slams the back
That bleeds the nose, that aches the head,
That takes the breath, and kills them dead.
We are reminded of the Christmas Truce by a little sketch that made us smile – “Wos yer name, then?” “Klaus.” “Klaus?” “Yah.” “Santa Klaus? We needed a little more lightness like that otherwise our sorrow is unbearable.
It’s a lot of work to commit an hour on stage by oneself and poetry requires discipline to get it word correct. However, its real challenge is in the delivery which requires nuance, feeling and and a deep understanding of what the poet is saying. I did not feel that it was Guy Masterton’s metier.
Guy Masterson Theatre Tours International presents
Anthem for a Doomed Youth
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre | 255 Angas Street Adelaide SA
Dates: 19 Feb – 3 Mar 2018
Tickets: $30 – $25