Review: A Painful Duty
PUBLISHED: 12:32 01 December 2018
Play recreates the experiences of two Sidmouth families during the First World War
Since Harry Patch died, in 2009, no-one living has first hand experience of fighting in the First World War. However, it would be a mistake to say that no-one can remember those who fought, or their families.
Sid Vale Community Productions’ performance of A Painful Duty, written and researched by Christine Hardy and Ruth Lewis, gave us an insight into the lives of two Sidmouth families, the Channings amd the Clodes, during that period.
The show at Sidmouth Parish Church opened with Adam Owen-Jones singing a perfect rendition of the words of A E Housman from A Shropshire Lad, set to the music of George Butterworth. You may wonder why this was chosen for a story of Sidmouth families, but it perfectly set the scene for the drama to follow. Moreover, Housman’s book had become so popular by the outbreak of war that many thousands of young soldiers carried it with them into the trenches.
I shall mention no other performer by name. This was a community play with a cast of around 40, each member playing an important role as the story progressed. We became aware of the anguished mother, afraid to lose her sons, at odds with the proud mother who was glad that hers were doing their duty. As the inevitable happened they came together in their grief. We became aware of the food shortages, the frustrations of young people as their plans were frustrated by the war, the dissemination of news by the Sidmouth Observer, the Sidmouth Herald and the Town Crier, and the anguish of those who lost their sons.
Musical interludes by an ensemble from Sidmouth Town Band and members of the company interspersed the scenes. The names of every Sidmouth son who died were read out with dignity.
The attitude of the Church was emphasised by readings from actual sermons preached at the time. This was the era of Onward Christian Soldiers.
Most moving of all was the final scene as descendants honoured their dead at the Sidmouth War Memorial. Fewer than 4000 people lived in Sidmouth at the time. Over 200 Sidmouth men never came back. Telling the story of real people gave the story poignancy and reality.
We will remember them.