MORNING IS RED
In an Army hospital during the final days of the Second World War, two soldiers discover they are bound together by a common tragedy…
MORNING IS RED is a love story with a difference, a moving, thoughtful reflection on the “War to end all wars”
It was first performed at the Old Red Lion, Islington in 1989. In 2018 it was revived by 368 Theatre Company at the Brighton Festival, directed by Louise Jameson.
“A commemorative and thought provoking production”
Morning is Red begins as an analysis of the human psyche when affected by the terrors of life on the Front Line, depicted though the the exchange of stories between three characters serving in World War I. It is, in fact, more significant than this – it is a plea for change, from those whose lives are forever transformed by conflict.
Loaded with the bitter truths of a nation at war, Morning is Red is further developed through the collaborative writing of Nigel Fairs and Gerald Sexton and the unexpectedly insightful characters they have created – each with the familiar hardiness and grit of service personnel from almost any WWI history book or film. One such character is Leonard, a young man injured on the first day of the war and frustrated by the hindrance of his patriotic and bold intentions, played equally as boldly by Dan Burgess. Opposite him is Richard Stemp as the empathetic and at times infantilised Officer Andrew, injured at the end of the war, and played with great conviction. Fairs touchingly explores the changing zeitgeist between the initial and subsequent war years here. To my surprise, with the expectation from what I had previously read of the piece suggesting it was a two-hander, there is a third player in this story: Nurse Constance. Constance, portrayed by Suzanne Procter with great maternal care and undeniable strength, allows the piece scope to visit the often untouched theme of female experience on the Front Line. Her character adds depth to the continually revealing plot which sees the trio truthfully dealing with their circumstances, their fragility, and inner conflicts.
Site-specific theatre can sometimes be a daunting prospect, especially when you find yourself downstairs in the basement of the Old Police Cells. However, it soon became evident that the intimacy of this small venue largely contributed to the immersive and engaging storytelling and gave the piece a genuinely eerie atmosphere. Nor did the minimalistic set do any disservice to the piece as, with credit to director Louise Jameson, the unseen and imagined was made just as real to the audience as it lived in the minds of those performing.
As the themes gradually build and entwine in their complexity, moving at a steady pace, the devastating twist is unveiled, uniting these souls in their suffering. Thereby, Morning Is Red brings to our consciousness the most fundamental and universal issue – the cyclic nature of politics and the failure to learn from such infamous historical affairs – as Fairs offers this story in response to current humanitarian crises.
The Last Post is powerfully used by Jameson to summarise a profoundly poignant ending, commanding the attention of a Remembrance Day tribute to the victims and veterans of atrocities past, present and, sadly, future. Theatre 368 have crafted a commemorative and thought provoking production, through their original take on a classic story. I would hope to see the audience grow in numbers to appreciate the hard work and preparation clearly invested in the piece.
BROADWAY BABY, May 2018
“A searingly intimate look at the politics and profundity of war from just behind the front line”
Leaving the glaring sun and the sticky heat of the Brighton streets for the cool quiet history and austere sterility of Brighton’s Town Hall, one finds a creeping sense of inevitability pervading the air. A feeling which is only increased as we descend into the depths of the building down winding staircases, through clinically-tiled corridors, and eventually musty and slightly damp cellar rooms to reach our final destination, the Old Police Cells Museum. Candles line wooden shelves and peak out of alcoves casting shadows across the wooden pews which surround the walls as we hear distant gunfire and intermittent shelling beyond the boundaries of the building and a strange sense of companionship hangs in the slightly stale air as we look around the peeling walls and dusty doorways. We are here for the duration it seems.
As our eyes become more accustomed to the flickering flames we begin to make out a young wounded soldier, Lenny (Dan Burgess), his head and eyes bandaged, and a uniformed nurse (Suzanne Proctor of Emmerdale fame) who keeps a careful eye on her old and new charges from a position in the corner of the room like a guardian angel watching over us and the journey we are about to undertake.
Stories of conflict are never easy to hear and our path through this show is no exception. Writers Nigel Fairs and Gerald Sexton have brought us an insightful and thought-provoking play which thrusts us headlong and sometimes feet-first into shockingly frank and brutally honest accounts of engagements and confrontations retold simply yet very effectively by the three person ensemble, although the harsh truths of wartime and its effects are thrust home with a little too much shouting for this reviewer’s taste. While many of the themes are familiar to us, the storytelling is well delivered and there are some fine performances by the cast.
This wartime mystery play takes us through many twists and turns on its way to a gut-wrenching twist in its conclusion and is conceptually a very interesting take on a familiar subject with some standout performance moments from Richard Stemp as the shell-shocked army Officer, Andrew, and Suzanne Proctor as the ever-vigilant medic. It is also nice to see these events through the eyes of a woman, an aspect which is not often investigated. Site-specific productions are always challenging but Director Louise Jameson (Eastenders) does a great job of utilising the space and the atmosphere and the final moments of the show which are underscored by The Last Post are heart-wrenching.
In our current political climate and taking into consideration the ever-changing nature of the world, it is sobering to acknowledge the common themes we experience especially when history repeats itself. Perhaps if we could learn from our predecessors we could move forward to a brighter future.
FRINGE REVIEW, May 2018