Echoes of Villers-Bretonneux at Greenside @ Nicolson Square is a solo performance show from Australian Shane Palmer and, as the title suggests, its story-line centres around the lead up to the 1918 battle of Villers-Bretonneux, a small town in the Somme department in Hauts-de-France in northern France.
In this story line, our modern day young man discovers in his parents’ attic his great-grand-father’s war journal, and the untold story of George Stevenson and his time in the “hell” of trench warfare is brought to life on stage. Although the people in this story are fictional, the historic details of the military events recorded are military history. This recreation of an “imagined” wartime front does at times use well-used before references and obviously lacks the depth of a real personal diary, but Shane Palmer has done a good job with the writing here and his fictionalised soldier was obviously finding a resonance with some members of the audience I heard speaking to him after the show.
The performance space available here for Shane to work from is very small, and that obviously limits what he is able to do on stage, but somehow Shane still manages to get a lot of detail into his character, and creating also in this “diary” some of the people around George Stevenson and some of his comrades in arms gives the story a layer of personal character depth that it needed. Yes, there are areas where the script needs tightened up a little and where Shane needs a little more experience as an actor for such a “close up” performance type of show, but this is a very good Fringe outing for this young writer and performer.
What is really interesting to me is that this is the story of “The War to End All Wars” not from a British point of view, but from an Australian point of view, and we forget all too easily that when Britain entered the war, it was as the country at the heart of the “British Empire” and Empire troops from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other “Empire Countries” were pulled into this conflict in their millions. Here in Edinburgh, we have many graves to these “Empire Soldiers” tended to by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. These men did not die in battle though; they were brought here to be treated in local “war hospitals” and died here as a result of their injuries, and it is a sad reminder that the men marked in these graves never saw their homelands again. With this work, Shane Palmer is giving once again a voice to some of those men.
Echoes of Villers-Bretonneux
Greenside @ Nicolson Square
Aug 2-3, 5-10, 12-17, 19-24
Group: Shane Palmer
Review by Tom King