A Perfect Show For This Week Of Remembrance

War Horse
The Concert
Theatre Severn

The audience at Theatre Severn waited silently. Maybe the occasional rustle of a sweet bag could be heard or the coughs of a crowd who were waiting for something so incredibly special, that as a member of that expectant full auditorium, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of privilege for being there. The assembled audience comprising of families, children and older folks were all waiting to see former Children's Laureate, Michael Morpurgo telling his story War Horse, and to hear the wonderful singing and music of John Tams and Barry Coope.

 This was the story as it should be told. By the man who wrote it.  Forget that awful thing that came out of tinsel town, this was the real story. To say the evening was one of great emotional beauty would be a gross understatement it was so much more! From his arrival on stage, one realised this man is our Charles Dickens, our Roald Dahl of today and more importantly, this man and his works will be studied by Schools and Literature students for many years to come. This is the man whose brain had brought to us this incredible story and there he was standing in front of us. This man who future generations will know, was here in Shrewsbury.

Amongst rapturous applause Mr. Morpurgo took his place on his story telling chair. To his side was a small, but tall table, supporting a solitary bottle of water. He comfied himself and opened his file. Then to the strains of an old Morris tune, “Speed The Plough,” he was joined by Barry Coope and John Tams playing harmonica and melodeon respectively. Coope took the seat at the electric keys as Tams settled himself amongst his nest of mike stands and guitars.

Napoleonic aficionados will be aware of the television show, “Sharpe,” and will also be aware of the work John Tams did in that show. He played the singing soldier who had a great down to earth approach to soldiering and a wonderful singing voice to Boot. John Tams has been a doyen of British Folk Music since the nineteen seventies. His distinctive voice with its total honesty and human qualities has been filling halls, theatres and marquees for four decades. Barry Coope is known throughout the British Folk scene also, as a wonderful harmony singer who came to the fore through his work with, “Coope, Boyes and Simpson.”

Taking his time like the magical teacher we can all remember from school, Morpurgo started his story. Adult and child alike sat in rapt silence as the magical tale began. Starting in Devon in the early nineteen hundreds,the story  pulled us from the idyllic calm of country life to the savagery and horrors of  trenches on The somme in 1916. The story is unusual in as much as it is narrated from the point of a remarkable horse called Joey.

Reminiscent of Keith Dewhurst’s, “Larkrise to Candleford,” the music cleverly counter balanced the story telling.  We were enchanted by the weaving of the harmonies, Michael Morpurgo’s powerful delivery and the crystal clarity of Barry Coope and John Tams' voices as the story unfolded.

Easy on the ear and easy on the brain, Michael Morpurgo told his tale of separation, sadness, war and the joy of reunification. Set in the First World War Morpurgo’s story goes much further. This work is a message to all nations who are warring and all nations that are about to go to war. In fact this message stretches and reaches from the muddy trenches of the Somme to the Deserts of Iraq and to the small towns of Afghanistan. He wasn’t questioning the First War War itself, no, his question was much bigger. He asked through his work, the question; Why do we war when we are all just the same underneath? Knowing war will bring death and horror, the loss of fathers, brothers, lovers and sons, the decimation of communities, towns, the destruction of ships and men, planes and pilots and the loss of women and children in their homes. Knowing all of that, twice in the first fifty years of the Twentieth Century, countries were stupid enough to rip the world apart. The simplicity of this story juxtaposed with the desperate images of war is what gives this piece of theatre its potency and poignancy.

All three men on the stage gave their absolute best with no conceit , no arrogance and no ceremony. They weaved a story, and in doing so created a humbling experience for everyone. As the tale ended after a magical ninety minutes,  that seemed to pass in a third of the time, the three stood and each one earned the ovation and the cheers they were given.  It was because of the audience reaction, that Mr. Morpurgo who had finished and had nothing more to give invited the two musicians to sing a song for us all to go home on. There was a ripple of applause as Tams leaned forward and sang the, “Sharpe,” finishing song, “Over the Hills and Faraway.” Naturally he sang it so beautifully that everyone became gripped in the emotion, Mr. Morpurgo was seen to rub his eyes; was he hiding an emotional tear? If he was, he wasn’t alone.

All of a sudden in this week of remembrance, the relevance of the message filtered through. As Tams kissed his poppy the audience were behind him, focussed on what our troops are doing right now. They were thinking of the overbearing reality that even though there are people like Michael Morpurgo, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Bob Dylan, and other great commentators, even though we have stone crosses in every town in England, bearing the names of the dead villagers, despite all of those indications that we shouldn’t, we still go to war.

It was a poignant, tearful and an emotional night and I for one was honoured just to be there amongst such creative power.

This is a five star review!

Owen Lewis


Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

Read More from Owen Lewis