Guy Masterson is now a Fringe regular whom some festival-goers may have seen in his brilliant one-man show Animal Farm a few years ago. He returns this year with a very different program of poetry and stories from World War I to commemorate the centenary of the final year of that enormous conflict.
Masterson is dressed in black, alone on a bare stage throughout. He acts out sections of stories but there is little of the frenetic racing across the stage that we have seen from him in past productions. This is all about the artists and their work.
He researched more than 1000 poems when constructing Anthem for a Doomed Youth. There is work by Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg and Erich Maria Remarque, as one would expect
But also there are little known poets Paul Granier and Tom Kettle; and scraps from other writers who are virtually anonymous by virtue of their bodies having been blown unrecognisable.
One poem is about the monotony of cracking lice one by one, by hand. Another has the soldier talking to a rat which has jumped over his hand; it’s a promiscuous rat, this – one which will be gnashing at corpses on the German side before long. And Granier’s The Andante, in particular, contains glorious subtle imagery.
There are stories that link the works. I never knew that Remarque’s sister was beheaded by the Nazis in 1943 in revenge for her brother’s pacifist work, and his left-wing leanings no doubt. The bill for the execution was sent to his surviving sister.
Many of the works emphasise the dehumanising effect of war, reducing men to “the indifference of wild creatures”. But there is also a lengthy enactment of an amusing conversation between a Fritz and a Tommy during the famous Christmas Day truce between the two sides – soldiers with machine guns separated by only forty metres of No Man’s Land.
Masterson is a terrific performer. This show confirms how poetry comes alive when it is performed, and how a judicious and sparse use of linking material can shed further light on the works, without detracting from the genius on show.
Guy Masterson is presenting Anthem for a Doomed Youth at the Bakehouse Theatre until March 3. Read more InDaily Fringe reviews and stories here.