Ivor B Gurney and Marion M Scott had a very special friendship. Both creatives in their own right (one focusing on poetry and song, the other music), they made waves during the First World War in their respective fields and changed the way we view the arts today.
moving and extremely memorable
Gurney, after being accepted into the Royal College of Music in 1911, then fought in the Somme and became well known for classics such as The Immortal Hour and Under The Greenwood tree (a beautiful interpretation of Shakespeare's iconic speech) before being gassed. This affected his brain and eventually, after many illnesses died in 1937 in a mental asylum. Scott, after training at the same place as Gurney, went on to not only formulate a friendship that would last a lifetime, but became a fighter for equality in women's rights to perform in an orchestra, as well as a critic of music after stepping back from performing herself.
Taking on the role of Scott in this moving and extremely memorable show Author, Composer, Soldier of a Sort is Jan Carey, who also wrote the play. She portrayed Gurney as Scott would have seen him in a subtle nod to Alan Bennett's Talking Heads as she invited us in to her world as she knew it through intimate monologue. Carey not only played Scott, but effectively switched to Gurney, taking on his mannerisms and jollity through the letters he wrote her and insightful poems about the way of life through the eyes of a soldier, as well as how love needs celebration. She powerfully used stillness and silence at times when needed to reflect on all she said. This was skilfully aided by original recordings of his songs as she sadly looked out at us in contemplation - especially when Under The Greenwood Tree and Severn Meadows played, giving the play a dynamic that moved us to tears at times.
What makes this piece special is the way in which Carey keeps everything simple, using just the surroundings of a rug, a desk full of and surrounded by books, and a chair when playing Scott. But when she becomes Gurney, it is shown with a simple shift of the lighting from a general white to a light pink/purple that cast shadows at certain angles when it came to a moment of despair. This simple use of lighting provides a different focus, as well as indicating the sensitive state of mind he had at the time, which is extremely well portrayed by Carey.
Author, Composer, Soldier of a Sort is a masterclass in how through a person's intimate thoughts, we can get to know someone like Gurney and Scott well,
as well as being given insight and a view into a world of performance that seems to be so easily taken for granted.