Caroline Clegg, founder of Manchester-based Feelgood Productions and director of Not About Heroes, writes about directing a play focussing on the friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.
Not About Heroes is one of the finest plays I have ever directed. The writing is skilled, witty, and challenging and it is an appropriate piece for the 21st century as we examine our attitudes to peace and conflict a century on from the First World War. The Wilfred Owen Association has endorsed our production and supported us with an honorary reception on our first night.
The venues chosen for the theatre tour were selected for their poignancy to the life of Wilfred Owen, including Craiglockhart War Hospital where the play is set and where the two poets first met; Ripon Cathedral where Owen famously spent his birthday in quiet contemplation; Shrewsbury where he was born; Scarborough where he was sent before going back to the front; and Liverpool where he grew up attending the Birkenhead Institute.
There’s also a performance by special invitation of the Mayor of Ors at The Wilfred Owen Memorial (The Foresters House) in France. It was here that, on October 31, 1918, Owen spent his last few nights in a smoky cellar and wrote his last letter home. The show concludes in the West End at Trafalgar Studios, just a stone’s throw from London’s Cenotaph.
I decided to run a National Poetry competition Whispers of War alongside the play as I hoped to be able to inspire people of all ages to write so we can find the voices of the 21st century. I was honoured when Hollywood actor Jason Isaacs (best known for his performance as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) agreed to be the patron. By building an explicit link between the experiences of the First World War and our experiences today we hope to build bridges of understanding on the issue of peace and conflict; and create a lasting legacy for the next generation.
Colonel Stephen Padgett, camp commander at Catterick Garrison, launched the competition. Catterick is the biggest garrison in Europe and it was with some trepidation but also excitement that we undertook performances and workshops at the school with young people whose parents are in the army, alongside veterans suffering from PTSD. The workshops were humbling and enlightening so, as a result of our work, a regular poetry group has now been established to continuously help those suffering from PTSD.
At the launch, Col Padgett said: “Yes, war is bad, but sometimes necessary to defend what we believe in; but through getting in touch with our feelings through theatre, poetry and music we are better equipped to talk about it with clarity and to ask the tough questions.”
We are incredibly grateful for his openness and honesty and to have performed this play there to a wide variety of audiences, not just ‘playing to the converted’. While being respectful, we also challenge perceived ideas and those of our own.
The poetry workshops will be run as part of the Liverpool Veterans Project by Breckfield & North Everton Neighbourhood Council which works with ex-military personnel, helping them to build a civilian life. The play comes to the Unity Theatre, Liverpool from 14-18 October.
Not About Heroes has also come to the Lowry Theatre, Manchester (running until October 8), the home of Owen’s Manchester Regiment and the 20-year-old multi-award winning Feelgood Theatre Productions.
There are lots of ties to Manchester as actor Simon Jenkins who plays Wilfred Owen studied at Manchester Metropolitan University. The original cello music for the play was composed by Ailis Ni Riain and performed by cellist Cecily Smith, both alumni from the Royal Northern College of Music. It was also recorded for production at the RNCM in Manchester.
By Caroline Clegg, founder of Feelgood Productions and director of Not About Heroes
For more information see www.notaboutheroes.com or @notaboutheroes
Tickets for the Lowry are still available and can be booked at www.thelowry.com/event/not-about-heroes1