Based on the poems and letters of Charles Hamilton Sorley, who died at the Loos in 1915 aged 20, this moving and powerful play first staged at the Finborough Theatre in 2016 and then the Trafalgar Theatre is available Free on the Society of London Theatres You Tube site until 7 July.
Son of a philosophy don, Sorley was a young Aberdonian who had been sent to an English public school and then to Cambridge. He spent the six months before the outbreak of the Great War in Germany staying with a German family and fell in love with the country. Interned for a day on the outbreak of hostilities he returned to England and joined the army.
After his death in action His parents published the poems he wrote and they were to inspire many of the Great war poets who followed. He loved Germany, but he went into battle all the same and his reason are moving and heart breaking. Neil McPherson has crafted a splendid play from his poems and letters and director Max Key gets from Alexander Knox, who plays Sorley, a shining and spellbinding performance which holds the attention throughout. As his parents, uptight, repressed father, andwarm and passionate mother, who wants to share with the world what their son has written,Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee could not be bettered, and there is fine support from Elizabeth Rossiter as the young wife of the family he stayed with and with whom he fell in love, and Hugh Benson, who sings the songs of the time – but not the ones you expect.
This is not a lovely war polemic. Apart from the quality of McPherson’s play, the production is well worth watching in its own right, because this is fringe theatre at its best – the Finborough space is tiny, but lighting and video projections create all you need to be there with this eager, passionate young man on his sadly all too brief journey. The play is not anti war, but more a celebration of being young, of being alive, of having ideals and daring to challenge what his elders want – the career they would liked for him was to have been in the Indian civil service. He had other ideas. Unmissable is a word too often carelessly used, and I did miss the production at the Finborough being away at the time, so this came as a revelation. It is exactly that. Not to be missed.
Director: Max Key.
Designer: Phil Lindley.
Lighting and Video designer: Rob Mills.
Costume Designer: Charlotte Espiner,
Sound Designer: Nathan Hamilton.
Musical director: Elizabeth Rossiter.