Sunday, 19 January 2014
Far, far from Ypres, and not yet close to a target
If producing a show that deals with a cataclysmic event, such as a war. especially a war that consumed so many lives for so little purpose, it is useful to have an aim in view. What was the impact of it? Did people die in vain, or for a purpose? If there were disasters, why did they happen? Unfortunately the lack of such an aim or target in Friday's (17) First World War concert at Glasgow's Celtic Connections (Far, far from Ypres) in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ultimately meant that it lost its way.
The material itself was often excellent, and the artists - including Barbara Dickson, Dick Gaughan and rising folk star, Siobhan Miller - more than did it justice. But the confusion about what the show set out to do, ultimately meant that it failed.
Billed as the music, songs and poetry of World War One from a Scottish perspective, the show used contemporary songs - music hall and troops own - in a similar vein to (and using much the same material from) theatre workshop's 'Oh, What a lovely War!'. However lacking the clear political perspective of that show, meant that we were also subjected to trite jingoistic material with no sense of irony or sarcasm. And of course, troops' songs in a major conflict such as the First World War don’t tend to fit into a Scottish, or any national perspective.
Ian McCalman, who directed the musical show, also mixed in some later material such as Eric Bogle's The Band played 'Waltzing Matilda' which, while a superb song, is about ANZAC troops in Gallipoli. I’m not sure Bogle’s Scottish birth was sufficient link.
The device of using ‘Jimmy McDonald’, an ‘everyman’ figure, could also have worked, if he hadn’t been introduced and then forgotten about for most of the show! Even when he had to be dispatched, he went via the Spanish ‘flu outbreak of 1919, rather than in the war itself. Ian Anderson’s narration, while clear, reinforced the view that this was intended to be a journey. But not knowing whether we were tracking the impact on the squaddies, history, the battles, or Scotland meant that we didn't really know where we were going.
It was a disappointment, that after such a successful opening venture as McCalman’s Spanish Civil War songs last year, this one didn’t gel. It wouldn’t take much to get it right. Perhaps it should be regarded as a ‘work in progress’?