All over By Christmas
Woolstore, Codford

AS part of the Wylye Valley 1914 Centenary events in Codford last week the Woolstore premiered a specially commissioned revue commemorating the First World War in words and music. Written and directed by Brenda Mears and Christine Powell, this powerful and moving production perfectly captured the pathos, the humour and the spirit of a conflict that began as a seemingly great adventure and tore the world asunder.

On the first night the Prime Minister’s special representative for the First World War centenary commemoration, local MP Andrew Murrison, opened the event with two poems - the first from Rudyard Kipling, the second a letter from a grieving mother whose son was killed but who after months of waiting had received no notification.

The first scene was an extract from Cavalcade - a family return to their London home on the night war is declared; the young son Joe (a beautifully nuanced performance from 15-year-old Josh Rogers) is terribly excited and hopes to finish training before the war ends. Throughout the performance we follow Joe’s experiences in letters to his mother.

These scenes have been adapted from actor and playwright Mark James’ award winning festival play Dear Mother, first performed at the Woolstore several years ago and published earlier this year by Magic Oxygen.

David North’s Poems and Patter offered light relief as he gave the unexpurgated opinions of the common soldier while sitting on the lavatory reading the Wipers Times.

Reverend Ian Duff took the part of his father Captain Ian Archibald James Duff of the Dorset Regiment, awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty with the Royal Flying Corps.

Alan Biggs delivered an authentic Antipodean view of England and the camp in an impeccable Australian accent.

On Friday night there was a very special treat when Sir Malcolm Colquoun read extracts from his grandfather’s diary from Christmas Day 1915. Against orders not to repeat the Christmas Truce of 1914 from an edgy high command, Captain Iain Colquoun of the Scots Guards agreed to a brief cessation of hostilities to allow the Germans to pick up and bury their dead while the Allies did the same - a humane and logical move that led to his court martial the following year.

Without a doubt Sirene Cleife tore at the heartstrings with her wrenching sobs as she read her son’s last letter - it made uncomfortable viewing as by now the audience had run the gamut of emotions. I was familiar with Dear Mother, had watched this scene on at least three occasions and was not the only one reaching for a tissue. Appropriately it was Mark James who read Armistice at the conclusion of All Over by Christmas.

Among the songs were old favourites, and the 40 members of the Woolstore Company came together with outstanding talents of The Wiltshire Concert Party Orchestra.

The simple but effective sets were designed and built by Simon Rhind-Tutt and Michael Found.

This was a very evocative production - offering something for everyone and achieving a moving tribute to those who fought and died in the first global conflict.

Such was the demand for tickets that the final dress rehearsal was opened to the public for donations only. It seems a pity that such a very enjoyable and pertinent revue should only be seen for three nights. This was a fantastic effort from everyone involved.

Romy Wyeth