Now the Hero
Wed 26 Sept, Swansea
‘‘All the world’s a stage…’’ declared Jaques, the character in Shakespeare’s famous play, As You Like It, and when it comes to Marc Rees’ theatrical anti-war production, Now The Hero, it couldn’t be more true.
Starting from Swansea’s beach front and concluding at Brangwyn Hall, Rees is not content to let theatre be a mere journey of the heart, he’s decided to get his audience’s feet moving too!
Now The Hero is a daringly ambitious production, and since much of it takes place outdoors, boldly optimistic. After all, the good ‘ol British weather isn’t the most reliable of business partners.
Drawing inspiration from an epic Welsh medieval poem (Aneirin’s Y Gododdin) and Frank Brangwyn’s World War One panels in Brangwyn Hall, the play also features music composed by Owen Morgan Roberts, born of an original collaboration with the late Oscar-nominated Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Replete with industrial noises, anti-war chants, and even wedding disco favourites, the play opens with a slender tomboy-looking figure (Eddie Ladd) in a lilac jumpsuit carving out what appears to be a large, mangled peace sign in Swansea’s golden sands. Desperately wielding her spade, hellish snake-like sounds punched through with demonic whispers titter through the speakers behind her leaving curious onlookers slightly unnerved yet wondering if the show has yet truly begun. She, however, is their guide throughout, the play’s depiction of the semi-famous 1981 protester, Thalia Campbell, straining against the seemingly indomitable futility of war.
If hoping for all-out-action as witnessed in Hollywood movies such as Saving Private Ryan, audience members will likely be disappointed. And whilst there are scenes involving a boat and tank that seemingly appear from nowhere, Now The Hero is plump with symbolism rather than obese with explosive thrills.
Captivating in its spectacle and defiant with its shouts of, ‘‘We won’t fight your wars!’’ and ‘‘Remembrance is not enough!’’ the play’s characters are more emblematic of mankind’s brutality, fragility and hope rather than fully fleshed-out, relatable human beings. That does also mean there’s a lack of connection with them. This, however, doesn’t necessarily detract from Now The Hero‘s bold message, though some theatregoers will find its ineffable qualities can leave one longing for a clearer and more straightforward narrative – not least since much of it’s in Welsh!
In order to depict the historical arc of man’s love of violence, the play relies on three representatives –a medieval warrior, a World War One private and a contemporary soldier. Appearing sporadically, each are part of a fractured style of storytelling, reminding the audience of the world’s unwillingness to learn from its bloody history. Full of interesting techniques and mediums, Now The Hero also utilises ironic counterparts to full effect, not least when a black-cladded choir recite what appears to be a Welsh dirge only to be rudely interrupted by newlyweds and their guests bursting joyously through the doors of Brangwyn Hall.
A short while later the audience are then treated to the delights of Brangwyn Hall’s interior where more disturbing highbrow art unfolds. Following this, time is given to wander through a raucous wedding party towards various rooms where Tibetan monks sit creating a stunning mandala, a soldier writhes across a table top, and a women sketching a nude life model plays out on a screen.
All in all then, Now The Hero possess more curves than straight edges, and whilst almost entirely devoid of humour or lightness, it makes for a truly soul-searching reflection on war and man’s hope for the future.
words Oliver R. Moore-Howells