This Evil Thing: three days to go…

Did I catch him smiling?

So, we have completed our two London previews of THIS EVIL THING to small invited audiences in our rehearsal space at Room One – without stage lighting but with all the set, sound and costume.

And phew! they seemed to go down well. And I already seem to have a lost a bit of weight. Will need to up my carb intake etc etc in order to perform this piece – and make sure I stay hydrated.

I have strategically-placed sips of water available during the play (in a tea- cup, a sherry glass, a whisky tumbler, and a period bottle), but they are just sips. The serious drinking has to be done well in advance. A voice coach told me you need to start drinking water four hours before you perform to give it time to be fully absorbed by the body.

It’s been an incredible experience, feeling the piece come together with the help of such a brilliant team, Ros, Jane, Zoe and the two Marks…and without wishing to sound too mystical, I really feel the COs themselves are behind the project. I have a large copy of a photograph at home of Bert Brocklesby, the main CO in the play, given to me by his granddaughter Jill Gibbon. Now it may just be fanciful thinking on my part, but when I got home after the first preview I could have sworn that he was smiling ever so slightly – as if to say – ‘Hey up, lad – that were grand…’

His photograph will be coming with me to Edinburgh on August 1st along with photos of the other significant people in the play – safely stowed in an enormous suitcase with everything I might need for my month north of the border. Keep smiling on us, Bert…

This Evil Thing: four and a half weeks to go… A Chapel in South Yorkshire

Sunday July 3rd

Richmond Castle

Ros Hutt, the director of THIS EVIL THING, and myself were hoping to get up to Richmond Castle in Yorkshire to visit the very cells where Bert Brocklesby and other conscientious objectors were imprisoned in 1916.

There is still graffiti on the walls of one cell, drawn by Bert himself with a piece of charcoal he smuggled in – that graffiti being a rather fine drawing of his fiancee Annie Wainwright; as well as an image of a man bearing the weight of a cross.  (The graffiti is being restored and preserved by English Heritage.) Timetables wouldn’t permit our trip however.
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Comrades in Conscience

This Evil ThingThanks to all who made such a success of Comrades in Conscience at the Conway Hall on May 25th, marking a hundred years since the introduction of compulsory conscription in this country.

Now I’m heads down preparing the solo version This Evil Thing which is appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe this August.

With military conscription still in force in many countries today, and prisoners of conscience still languishing in jails, the questions posed by THIS EVIL THING are as relevant and urgent as they were one hundred years ago.

The show is being directed by Rosamunde Hutt and will be on between 4th and 28th August (apart from Aug 16th and 23rd).  It starts at noon, lasts 75 minutes and is at the New Wee Theatre.

More details and the press release can be found below.

This Evil Thing Press Release

Tickets for THIS EVIL THING now on sale here.

Miichael Mears

Comrades In Conscience

Comrades Aberdeen web.jpg

Dyce camp, Aberdeen, 1916

And so, tis done…what a very special evening at Conway Hall  – COMRADES IN CONSCIENCE – thanks to all who came, some from quite a way away – and all those who tried to but couldn’t make it…
and of course to all the wonderful performers, singers, speakers…
And great to hear laughter ringing out too at times – mainly at Bertrand Russell’s droll witticisms of course…
Those of us who are pacifists will probably never have our pacifism and beliefs put to the test in the way that those young men who were COs in WW1 were tested – the abuse, the punishments, the threat of execution… so all we can do is remember them, pay tribute to them, keep their example alive – and try to keep the freedoms alive, of thought, action, conscience, that they struggled to maintain… and anyway, in other parts of the world today, there is still conscription in many countries, and COs in those countries still face all kinds of punishments…so, still work to be done, then. Joining the Peace Pledge Union and other similar peace movements would be a start…

 

You’re too young to have a conscience

Military Service ActThe photo is of a poster with the ominous news that conscription was now the law of the land for all men, unmarried and married, between the ages of 18 and 41. Conscientious objectors would be compelled to make their case for exemption before local tribunals, who were often prejudiced against them and deeply unsympathetic.

For example, Harold Bing, an 18 year old CO, had his claim turned down –
‘You’re too young to have a conscience!’ he was told.

Bert Brocklesby

Bert BrocklesbyThis is a picture of Bert Brocklesby, South Yorkshire schoolteacher and Methodist preacher – one of 35 COs who were sent to France in 1916 and sentenced to death – simply for refusing to act against their consciences and take part in warfare.

They were reprieved at the last moment and given 10 years penal servitude instead. On International COs Day 2016, Bert’s granddaughter Jill Gibbon spoke movingly about Bert and the inspiration his story gives to her and all war-resisters.

Having been reading and writing about Bert and his fellow COs for the last four years, it was truly special for me meet his granddaughter. She gave me the picture of him, was displayed on the wall of Conway Hall for The Comrades in Conscience event on 25th May.

Walter Roberts

Walter RobertsThis is a photo of Walter Roberts – the first conscientious objector to die during the First World War – just 20 years old. In a state of exhaustion, having already endured four months hard labour in prison, he died of pneumonia as he lay in a leaking tent in the pouring rain at Dyce work camp, near Aberdeen.

Fenner Brockway said: ‘To all of us, Walter Roberts’ life and death must be an inspiration.’ It helped close the camp at Dyce but achieved little else. Bert Brocklesby said of him – ‘A true martyr to the cause of peace and brotherhood.’

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

Red Lion Square

Only through researching the COs’ struggle against conscription, did I come to learn the full extent of Bertrand Russell’s passionate commitment to the anti-war effort – pretty much giving up his own work for the duration of the war in order to help and support the young COs.  He became acting chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship, and eventually went to prison himself for six months in 1918 – for an article he’d written.

 

Clifford Allen

This image is of Clifford Allen, agnostic socialist, and quietly charismatic chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship – before his imprisonment for refusing militaryClifford Allen service. He served three prison sentences including many weeks of solitary confinement on bread and water diets, at the end of which he was a frail and emaciated thirty year old, who looked twice his age, weighed less than eight stone and was suffering from the onset of tuberculosis.

Catherine Marshall

Catherine Marshall was instrumental in the struggle for women’s suffrage and then devoted Catherine Marshallherself to the cause of the conscientious objectors in WW1.

When the young men in charge of the No-Conscription Fellowship were arrested for failing to report for military service, she and Bertrand Russell pretty much took over the running of the organisation. She was indefatigable, meticulous, and highly inventive at circumventing the probing and prying of government and the military.