Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Letters in a shoebox that reveal a treasure-trove of untold family history, brought to life by skilful storytelling and some consummate acting.
The last person to have fought in and survived World War I died some six years ago, so all we have left now is memories passed down through the descendants of those who lived through the war that was supposed to end all wars, that finally concluded a hundred years ago this coming November.
Dear Lucy is based on such memories, in this case the letters that one Lucy Hall received from her brother and fiancé, both of whom fought at the front and both of whom were tragically killed as the war drew to its close in the autumn of 1918.
Lucy’s letters were only discovered after her death in 1978, their contents revealing the trauma that she and her family went through whilst their men were away fighting at the front. The knock on the door from the postman would either bring “cheery news” from the front or the letter that no family wanted to receive.
Writer/director Carrie Bird, Lucy’s granddaughter, has painstakingly pieced together the story behind these letters, brought to life here by a female cast of five with four playing multiple roles and Rachel Bird taking the eponymous role, a nice twist given that she’s Lucy’s great granddaughter.
We start in the latter stages of the war as letters from the front are received and read by Lucy, culminating, inevitably, in the two letters she never wanted to receive. When looking back on WWI, our focus is often on the effect the war had on the men who fought in it, but we often forget the trauma and loss suffered by women who remained in the UK and the many who were forced to rebuild their lives after hostilities ceased, being left to contemplate a life of what might have been had their sweetheart not been one of the millions to have fallen.
The story meanders gently through the post war period as Lucy tries (with mixed success) to come to terms with her loss. Her friends and relatives slowly rebuild their lives, marrying new sweethearts, moving on, whilst Lucy continues to deal with death – in this case of her father. Pressed by suitors, she shuns marriage until time eventually heals her sufficiently to accept a man you are left feeling she might always have considered to be second best.
It’s a nicely conceived and constructed piece of theatre, although perhaps still a bit of a work-in-progress given that the cast have been together for less than a month. But it works. Characters are well-defined, with costume changes delineating the variety of roles undertaken by the hard working and consummate cast. An extensive array of authentic looking props adds to the atmosphere and clever use of an in-the-round setting is complemented with some subtle lighting and, at times, ethereal sound effects. The inclusion of a modern, upbeat song mid-way through rather broke the reflective mood of the piece but the cast quickly corrected this once they got back to their storytelling. Sometimes less is more, even if the music was the product of another of Lucy’s great granddaughters.
This is a show that will particularly appeal to people of an age (like me) that had relatives who lived through World War I. It will also appeal to those interested in the untold stories of the period, many of which are coming to light as people like Carrie Bird find the time and the energy to bring history to life in a thoughtful and engaging manner. Well worth a look, but note that the show only runs until August 11th.