Five chairs face the audience on an empty stage. An evocative piece of artwork from the 1910s is projected on the screen behind them, then – one by one – the performers inhabit not only the chairs, but the lives of real people who were impacted by the fierce futility of the First World War.
A powerful piece of verbatim theatre drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s oral collection, the five actors breathe life into these forgotten voices, personalising the 100-year-old conflict in a moving and affecting manner which resonates across the years.
The testimonies are taken from a cross-section of military and civilian society, including privates and officers, an American soldier, and – perhaps most moving of all – one of the women whose lives were forever changed by the war.
The visual art projected behind the actors is equally powerful; an arresting and at times unsettling artistic response to the madness taking place in the world at the time. Subtle sound design enhances the atmosphere too, but – as the piece’s title suggests – the focus is on the voices.
A core cast is augmented by a series of guest actors (this afternoon’s performance featured Peter Bowles, whose clipped pronunciation brought a sense of gravitas to his portrayal of an officer’s recollections); all performances are well-pitched and convincing, delivered with a respect for the people whose lives they inhabit.
There are many productions across the festivals which commemorate the First World War. By focusing on the all too real experiences of those who actually lived through the conflict, Forgotten Voices is one of the most moving.
Forgotten Voices is at the Pleasance until 25 Aug (not Tuesdays).