‘An Act of Remembrance.’… I suppose, like many of us, I first heard this phrase in a school assembly. Or perhaps I heard it on the television. Our family were probably watching BBC commemorative coverage, live at the Cenotaph and although I didn’t understand what it meant, I knew, from the way my gran always reacted, that I was supposed to be ‘Very Quiet and Sad’, in a vague, unexplained way, whilst it was on… Obviously, I have no direct memory of the First World War. Few, if any of us in the audience, there to watch Wren Academy’s ‘Lampson Unlocked: ‘Fear God! Fear Nought!’ – had. Some may have had direct experience of the Second World War or other conflicts, but, for the majority of us, and certainly the students, the First World War is, perhaps, primarily now, A Story. You cannot remember something you have not had experience of and the further into the past the First World War recedes, the more we have to attempt what the Performer does as an instinctive part of their craft – to imagine ourselves in the experience of someone else, to explore the thoughts, use the words, mannerisms, movements and gestures of someone perhaps from a different background, a different culture, a different time. It is an Act, but one that, if we can bear to really attempt fully, might take us ever so slightly nearer the experience of soldiers of the First World War – if only in an incomplete and fictional way. I am fairly certain that the students of Wren Academy took part in a powerful Act of Remembrance on Friday 5 December 2014.
The faces of the students in these photographs show this. They are performing in front of and meeting Jonathan Locker-Lampson, son of Oliver Locker-Lampson, the inspiration behind the show and art work we have just seen.
The group have spent 5 months exploring his father’s life story; his experiences in the February 1917 Russian Revolution and his impact on those around him. They have had history lessons at The National Archives and explored the art of the time by visiting the display ‘Russian Avant-garde Theatre: War, Revolution and Design 1913 – 1933’ at the V&A, leading to the production of exquisite Cabinets of Curiosities that fill the Tapestry Gallery for the evening.
But, until now, it has been… A Story. Jonathan Locker-Lampson’s attendance has made it real. They are one generational hand-shake away from the man who story they have been bringing to life. Jonathan’s gift to each and every one of the group is a set of cufflinks that his father had made in the 1930s as a symbol of the anti-fascist ‘Blue Shirts’ movement. I hope they will treasure them.
This project has been part of the Museum’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War and one of the many events we have seen and taken part in over the year. Like many millions of people during the last few months, I went to see ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ at the Tower of London (designed, lest we forget, by a theatre designer, Tom Piper) and was struck by how subversive it actually was: I saw an internationally iconic building with a shower of blood pouring from its windows and filling the moat. From some angles, the river seems never-ending and appears to feed itself back through the Tower and out the windows again, like the evil twin-sister to an Escher print…It’s an extraordinary image and one that isn’t easily forgotten once seen.
There have been many congratulatory emails from and between all the partners after the event. There usually are, but it isn’t very often that I’ve found myself involved in a project that was so moving for participants and audience alike and I wish everyone who took any part in the preparation and on the day, very best wishes. Particular thanks to The Friends of The National Archives who provided financial support for the project.