Sean McGinley’s opening soliloquy as Old Pyper at the opening of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme – which is running at The Liverpool Playhouse until the end of the month – may provide clues as to what is to transpire over the next couple of hours, but in no way does it prepare the audience for the sheer power of the performances, or indeed of Frank McGuinness’s writing.
A play that asks blunt questions about life, religion, love, loss and ultimately regret and remorse, what emerges is the stark truth that no matter how we might proffer opinions as to what makes up each and every characteristic of all of these things, the answers must remain oblique as each facet is as individual as those as the personas of those offering said opinions. What inspires one person, frightens another and what frightens most is death.
What is for sure however – and what is so beautifully captured here – is that war is the greatest leveller, where rich and poor, the educated and the and the uneducated, the meek and the thunderous all live and die together and so are forced to change and adapt to circumstances unimaginable to those of us fortunate not to have experienced its horrors.
The cast here are quite remarkable, with each member of the nine strong team being directed with supreme craft and guile by Jeremy Herrin so that the very raw emotions each of the characters are exposing, become living, breathing and electrifying parts of the whole to shocking and devastating effect. Added to this is Ciaran Bagnall’s truly magnificent set, which opens as a bare wooden stage but thanks to some fine lighting and deeply atmospheric sound effects becomes a character in its own right as the action unfolds.
On July 1st, we will be commemorating the centenary of the opening of The Battle of The Somme. On the first day alone, the British suffered more than 57,000 casualties, and by the end of the campaign the Allies and Central Powers would lose more than 1.5 million men, of whom 3,500 Irish soldiers died, with many more wounded.
This large loss of life was made even more horrendous by its occurrence within the short space of the first day of the Battle and two days in the following September. Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme is a glorious tribute to not only those who died, but also to those who remember them through such poignant and affecting theatre.
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
June 8th – June 25th, 2016
Author: Frank McGuinness
Director: Jeremy Herrin
Set Design: Ciaran Bagnall
Cast: Sean McGinley, Donal Gallery, Ryan Donaldson, Iarla McGowan, Chris McCurry, Marcus Lamb, Jonny Holden, Andy Kellegher, Paul Kennedy
Running Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
PR Rating: ***** Powerful