Monday, 25 June 2012

The Grandfathers

Tiana-Sharlotte Parry, at Day 3 of Connections at the NT

The Grandfathers is a play about the effect of conscription and follows the training of a group of young men giving insight into each characters personal experience of warfare as they train to fight for their country. It was performed by St Brendan’s Sixth Form College and Bristol Old Vic Young Company and now travels for one night only to the National Theatre.

Through talking to the cast during their final rehearsals I had discovered that the process taken to develop this play was not exactly conventional. Director, Jesse Jones was keen for the young actors to understand their characters before learning the script, which meant a lot of improv’ classes and I guess what would be called method acting with activities such as having to write a letter home from the battlefield to family as your character after every rehearsal. Well it may not be conventional, but it definitely works. The two leads of this production Guy Remmers and Lorenzo Niyongabo explained that it made them ‘feel connected’ to their characters which in turn made their acting ‘more fluid and natural’.

The Grandfathers, Photo: Simon Annand
I just so happened to be there when an Australian theatre group that had also been performing ‘The Grandfathers’ in their home town were introduced to this group for the first time and surprisingly despite having different directors and being on the other side of the world their approach was much the same. It was interesting to see the character counterparts from Australia and the UK meet; it was a sight that proved the power the arts can have, what else can unite teens from opposite ends of the globe?
After watching the last rehearsal of ‘The Grandfathers’ in a giant perspex box (which is part of the National Inside Out process) the cast went off to get ready whilst I found my seat.
The show starts with the cast already on stage, completely still and silent. We begin at the end, with an emotional death scene and the story is then traced back to its route, the first day of conscription from there. The audience are introduced to each character in time as they take centre stage and tell their own story. It’s not often that you get a show that has both incredible standalone performances and also impresses as a united piece but this is exactly what ‘The Grandfathers’ did.

The Grandfathers. Photo: Simon Annand
Hilariously honest, the play shows so many different characters in such a short space of time that it would be easy for some of them to get lost, but alas, the writing is just too good. Writer Rory Mullarkey finds a way to make the fear of soldiers both emotive and yet funny. Yes, you may spend most of the time laughing at the characters rather than with them, but so do the rest of the cast, the audience feels a part of what is happening which means each and every little dialogue inflection or head tilt is vital and relished. On top of all of this the live musicians and singers used throughout the play add a sense of warmth to what could otherwise be a play about a group of laddish soldiers preparing for war with the enthusiasm that comes from no experience.

However a play about a group of soldiers going through the motions of conscription turns out to be so much more; it’s funny, confronting and upsetting. The actors treat their roles with a sense of responsibility you may not expect from people their age and I would quite happily watch the production over and over again.

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