Photos Reviews

May We Remember: War Comes to Topsham

November 2016

Devised by Estuary Players and based on extensive research by Topsham Museum, May We Remember shows the impact of the First World War on Topsham. As its sons and daughters were scattered across the globe in the service of total war, what happened to the families left behind? A Topsham family looks back from 1939, when the world is once again on the brink of war, at what happened to them and their community. The story is told with authentic music of the time, as well as poems, diaries and newpaper extracts.

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George May - Bob Drury

Henrietta May, his wife - Chris Eilbeck

Margaret May, his sister - Rose Gander

Ernest Tremlett, her husband - Alan Caig

Ralph, George's brother - Ian Potts

Barbara May, his niece - Marie Watsham

Leslie May, another brother - Rob Hole

Sarah May, Leslie's wife - HIlary Francis

Florrie Majorfield, star of the halls - Clare Philbrock

Shapter and Strand, double act - Keith Palmer and Howard Eilbeck

Lord Kitchener - Howard Eilbeck

Rev Guy Halliday, Vicar of Topsham - Bill Pattinson

VAD Nurses - Hilary Francis, Rose Gander, Chris Eilbeck

Ironing Ladies - Cally Pettit, Jacquie Howartson, Avril Pattinson

Private Cox - Howard Eilbeck

Lord Derby - Bill Pattinson

Dick Pym - Keith Palmer

Seven Jolly Sailors - Howard Eilbeck, Keith Palmer, Bob Drury, Bill Pattinso, Alan Caig, Ian Potts, Cass Thorne

Crown Prince Ruprecht - Keith Palmer

Private Soldiers - Howard Eilbeck, Keith Palmer

Headmaster - Ian Potts

Pub Customers etc - Cally Pettit, Cass Thorne, Lynn Trout

Production Team:

Devised and Written by - Alan Caig and Janine Warre

Director - Alan Caig

Production Co-ordinator - Janine Warre

Musical Director - Mark Perry

Assisted by - Mary Pickard

Set and Publicity design - Phil Keen

Lighting - Peter Tapp

Film - Rhod Cooper

Projection - Rhod Cooper

Costume co-ordinator - Janine Warre

Wardrobe - Jill Whitehouse

Front of House - Avril Pattinson and team

Bar and Catering Facilities - The Lighter

Original research by - Rosemary Hatch and Marian Grimshaw

Picture research by - Catriona Batty


From A review of the chamber version, presented at Topsham Museum:

In little more than half an hour, the audience had some idea of what those who went to War had experienced and what it was like back home in Topsham

Today I was fortunate to witness a moving tribute to Topsham during World War 1. Estuary Players have created a dramatic interlude based on extensive research carried out by Topsham Museum on what happened to all those who went to War - including nurses and the local vicar - and the effect of the War on Topsham itself. The performance took place on the ground floor of the Museum laid out informally so that the actors moved around the audience. The dramatic episodes, featuring a wide range of local characters, were linked by a concise narrative and the telling use of contemporary popular songs. Each member of the cast took on a range of parts and managed to create individuals out of each of them. The effectwas immediate and very moving.

The strong maritime tradition of the Town came through as did the different theatres of war where people served. In little more than half an hour, the audience had some idea of what those who went to War had experienced and what it was like back home in Topsham. A great achievement that left the audience deeply moved. It was evident that Topsham would never be the same afterwards.

- Reviewed by: Anon

From A review of the full production:

a dramatic enterprise which was ambitious and brave

It's long been a tenet of British culture that the worst in life can be rendered bearable through humour. Estuary Players' latest presentation was just such a manifestation in the recollection of the time when "War came to Topsham". The far end of the Matthews Hall was transformed into the bar of a Topsham pub, with the stage of a music hall immediately alongside and the whole venue, audience included, was transposed temporarily to 1939.

In this neatly contrived, dual-function setting four couples of the May family met in this bar to engage in a double mix of 1st World War reminiscences interrupted by anxious forebodings at the prospect of another impending conflict. From their recollections, some light-hearted and some sad, sprang further connections which used a variety of film, songs, poetry, diary excerpts and sketches to fill out either the international context or aspects of wartime life in Topsham.

On the pub wall, above the heads of the May family, a projection screen carried a succession of images: battlefield scenes, public information notices (especially on food rations), propaganda and recruitment posters. With front of house staff in appropriate costuming the ensemble approach made for an easy we're all in this together atmosphere.

Audience attention was switched throughout the performance between the gentle teasing and family banter of the Mays and the adjacent stage, where a versatile duo of cheeky chappies, Shapter and Strand (Keith Palmer and Howard Eilbeck), performed their subversive songs and sketches with skill and panache. On that same stage, with a splendidly composed presence, appeared Florrie Majorfield (Clare Philbrock) to deliver patriotic and sentimental songs, accompanied at the piano by Mary Pickard. The music hall items included adaptations from Gilbert and Sullivan, providing unlikely but very amusing song and dance routines from ironing ladies, VADs and sailors.

There were solo cameos too: a deliciously refined Topsham headmaster (Ian Potts) read from the school logbook some of the records of fruit picking forays and, regretfully, of agricultural absenteeism. The Vicar of Topsham (Bill Pattinson) pontificated to his flock, most especially on the virtues of generous giving.

The account above is a fair sample of content in a dramatic enterprise which was ambitious and brave. Its foundation was provided in the original research undertaken by Rosemary Hatch, Marian Grimshaw and Catriona Batty for the earlier Topsham Museum exhibition. Upon their achievements Alan Caig and Janine Warre constructed a dramatic entertainment of which any writer, director or company of actors could be proud. Necessarily there were complexities, some obvious but others more subtly demanding. Thus the doubling up in the cast required slick changes, which were well-managed. So too generally were the switches from one format to another. The gentle interaction of the pub scenes was more taxing for the actors than might have appeared, both in the pace of the dialogue and in the challenge of projecting to the back of the auditorium whilst articulating thoughtful reflection.

And the abiding memory? That an amiable family, accustomed to the quiet and gentle tempo of the seasons, should be torn from Devon soil and thrown into the cruelty of battle and the privation of war. Remarkably all the eight May boys came back, when so many, many others did not.

- Reviewed by: Bryan Stephenson


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