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" The hour spent in the company of Michael Rolfe, Robert Lister and John Robert Partridge perfectly reflected my own remembrance. "

Caroline Quint

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The Pity of War Review by Caroline Quint

'The Pity of War' - poetry of remembrance

Review by Caroline Quint


After holding my 7 year old son tight whilst watching the annual ceremony in London and explaining to him in his 'glorious' youth the meaning of poppies and why we must always remember the sacrifice so many made during the Great Wear and all conflicts since, we went out as a family for a traditional sunday lunch at a village pub. Falling asleep on the sofa afterwards, watching Flash Gordon and snuggling on the sofa was to be the order of the day. Then I recalled that Tread the Boards were presenting an evening of poetry to mark Remembrance Sunday, so I donned my poppy once more and made my way to the Attic Theatre. How glad I am that I did.

I am not one for marching bands and pomp and circumstance, preferring to remember the fallen with a sense of sadness and reflection. I totally respect all the different ways in which people mark this most poignant of anniversaries and wear my poppy with pride. But for me, reflecting on the loss, futility and heartbreak of all war means a quiet time, remembering those who went, objected and didn't go, those who suffered, came back, didn't come back, came back changed and who in all their varied ways remembered their service.

The hour spent in the company of Michael Rolfe, Robert Lister and John Robert Partridge (all accomplished and sensitive readers, as you would expect from the excellent Tread the Boards) perfectly reflected my own remembrance. In a programme compiled and directed by Rolfe, we were taken through the all too predictable soldier's timeline - the call up, the camaraderie, the drudgery, the acts of war, the injury and death and the bereavement and loss of those left behind.


The programme, entitled 'The Pity of War' included poetry by all those you would expect - Owen, Sassoon, Macrea and Graves, with the addition of works by Pope, Newbolt and Rosenberg. Included alongside were the writings of Harry Patch, extracts from soldiers' letters home, newspaper articles from the time and the final letter from Owen.

In an evening of readings, perhaps, and for me most certainly, the most poignant was Owen's Parable of the Old Man and the Young - a retelling of the Abraham and Isaac story. Google it. You will weep.

'Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns
A ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.'
But the old man would not so but slew his son
And half the seed of Europe one by one.


Hearing poems expressing the futility, pity and horror of war, simply staged, through readings of works written by those who were there, saw the horror and left us with their call to us to remember through their writings was incredibly moving. Indeed, war has left us with some of the most moving writing in the English language. It has also left us confused. Confused by our own sense of conflict about why exactly we remember, whether war is ever right or wrong, how we view war now, how wars are fought now, why wars are fought now.


This performance distilled the real experience - looking past the ceremonies, the parades, the national triumph and loss. Simple words, written by 'glorious boys', who answered the call, did their duty and what was expected of them. The phrase 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori' from Homer's Odes - translated as 'It is sweet and right to die for your country' - read beautifully by Lister, crystallised the real sentiment of the evening. And after so many Remembrance Sundays, I was still left with a resounding 'why?'.

This production should be seen by all our children. Lest we forget the real cost and pity of war.


Caroline Quint



From left to right: John-Robert Partridge (Actor), Chris Wall (Stratford British Legion), Diane Walden (Lady Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon), Michael Rolfe (Director and Compiler/Presenter) and Robert Lister (Actor)


From left to right: Diane Walden (Lady Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon) and Michael Rolfe (Director and Compiler/Presenter)


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