The Great War and Bertie
Feedback from Ann Overstal
The Great War and Bertie
Brother Bertie went away
To do his bit the other day
With a smile on his lips
And his Lieutenant's pips
Upon his shoulder bright and gay.
As the train moved out he said,
"Remember me to all the birds!"
And he wagg'd his paw
And went away to war
Shouting out these pathetic words:
Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee!
Tho' it's hard to part I know,
I'll be tickled to death to go.
Don't cry-ee, don't sigh-ee,
There's a silver lining in the sky-ee,
Bonsoir, old thing, cheer-i-o, chin, chin,
Having been in the cast of “Oh What a Lovely War”, I was curious to see how the youth group would treat ‘the war to end all wars’ one hundred years on. To do this they took the fictional character of Bertie from the song “Goodbye-ee” and followed his fortunes and those of other young people from the schoolroom to the Front in France. The pierrots from the seaside pier, dressed as they were in “Oh what a lovely war” opened the show by whispering and peering at the audience. They were to narrate the story. Mutants, dressed in black, became the scenery and props.
Bertie , his brothers and f riends are in the village schoolroom when war is declared. He tries to enlist but is told to go away and to come back ‘two years older’. He takes the hint , lies about his age and joins the army. The actors create a brilliant train using the mutants and wheels and the villagers see him and his friends off to war. Everyone is optimistic as they sing “Goodbye-ee”. They think it will all be over by Christmas.
Once in France, we find Bertie, now an officer, in the trenches with his men, young men in their teens. We hold our breaths when on the first Christmas Day of the war British and German soldiers approach each other’s lines to shake hands and exchange gifts. But fighting resumes, Bertie takes his men ‘over the top’. Letters from the front are read including one in Luxembourgish. Eventually Bertie and his group of men are wiped out. The only soldier who survives the fighting returns to the village a broken being, damaged for ever by his experience. The roll is called in a half empty schoolroom and we are reminded of the loss of the country’s youth.
The players used the space of the Altrimenti cleverly. The schoolroom and home were in the centre of the hall while the stage area became the battlefield. Everyone played several parts using slight changes of costume to delineate their different roles. The costume department did a great job. Boxes were used in many ways to suggest furniture and scenery. Props were kept to the minimum; the actors mimed life in the trenches. In the audience we could feel the concentration in every move. We were not aware of the age range of the participants, only of the way they used their imagination and worked together to illustrate the tragic events. Congratulations to everyone who took part in this extremely moving piece of ‘work in progress’ whether as actor, director or crew.