War, Women and Song was a performance and participation project produced by Harvest that celebrates the Lena Ashwell YMCA Concert Parties of the First World War. In addition to support from Arts Council England as part of the Bristol 2014 arts projects programme, it was funded by The Conservatoire for Dance and Drama and The British Library.
Producer/director Anna Farthing worked with recent graduates of the Conservatoire to interpret archive materials from the Imperial War Museum, V&A Theatre Museum, Royal Academy of Music, Bristol University Theatre Collection and a recently discovered private family archive in the West Country. The project was mentored by Professor Jay Winter (Yale/Historiale de la Grande Guerre).
More than 600 performers signed up for a tour of duty with Ashwell between 1914 and 1919, among them Ivor Novello, heartthrob composer of ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, and Elsie Griffin, a former Fry’s chocolate packer, who is honoured with a blue plaque at her former primary school, St Michael’s on the Mount, Bristol. The performers played whatever and wherever was needed, in freezing tents and packed huts, on ships at sea, and at the bedsides of the dying. They were immortalised in Siegfried Sasson’s poem ‘Concert Party’.
Anna Farthing and Bea Roberts dramatised fragments from the lives of those who toured to theatres of war - bringing the harmony of home to soldiers reeling from the cacophony of battle - which was performed by actors trained at the Conservatoire.
War, Women and Song premiered at The British Library on Saturday 30 August 2014 and it was performed at the Redgrave Theatre in Bristol Sunday 31 August – Tuesday 2 September. It is available for touring
Read Anna Farthing's article for the Daily Telegraph about the Lena Ashwell Concert Parties HERE.
Anna Farthing appeared at the First World War Day: Bristol 2014 Arts Projects event on 15 November at Watershed.