There are various plays that make some connection with the Christmas truce of 1914 – 'Oh What a Lovely War' being one, Robin Kingsland's play 'All Quiet On The Western Front' similarly and now a one man show called 'Our Friends The Enemy' written and performed by Alex Gwyther. Alex Gwyther is a writer and performer and has performed across the country at venues and festivals and events such as Oxford University, The Royal Festival Hall, Latitude Festival and The Mayor of London's Week of Peace in Trafalgar Square. Having been fascinated by the story of the Christmas truce, Alex Gwyther initially wrote the piece as a spoken word poem, which he has performed in front of a thousand strong audience at the Mayor of London’s Week of Peace. He has also been invited to perform at a Remembrance Service in aid of Help for Heroes and St. Dunstan’s Charity on three separate occasions. His style has been described as unique and of a 'tumbling urbane' nature and his works are published by Nasty Little Press and Burning Eye Books.
Gwyther's one man play 'Our Friends The Enemy' looks at the period 10th December 1914 to January 5th 1915 from the viewpoint of a young English private in his own trench at Armentières and the trenches of the Germans (mainly the 134th Saxons) opposite. He talks to the audience in a mix of friendly chat and poetic description interspersed, when you least expect it, with a verbal blast of sudden devastation that hits the heart as accurately as a sniper's bullet.
This is an unselfish piece as the narrative roams like a ghost among the trenches and sits alongside men from both sides and tells of their confusion, their freezing feet, the comfort of a cigarette or a cuppa made in a billy can on a fire. A slice of bacon becomes a lifeline to normality and a reminder of peace times back home Britain or in Germany. The enemy turn out to be 'a nice bunch of chaps from across the way'. The piece is told with a knowledgeable and authentic voice.
A grenade is lobbed into the English trenches and the entrenched soldiers freeze with fear as they play cards. The next fraction of a second could be their last. Only the grenade turns out to a small stone with crumbled paper tied around it. On the paper, in writing written on an uneven surface it says “Merry Christmas Englishmen!” It is from the Germans.
An uneven truce happens with enemies becoming friendly and swopping greetings and addresses, offering simple gifts instead of shells and gunfire. Christmas trees lit up with candles top the German trenches and festive songs and hymns are sung by both sides in this unexpected and historic lull in The Great War. At one point a football match between the two sides ensues and a madcap pursuit of a large hare by English and German soldiers that takes us thrillingly across no-man's land and down into the trenches is relayed by the soldier narrator. Photographs are taken of the mixed grey and khaki groups and Gywther's character James Boyce brings them all believably and poignantly to life. Fraternisation with the enemy could have serious and even deadly personal consequences which private James Boyce comes to realise in this short but excellently written play.
The play is directed by Tom O'Brien and produced by David Adkin in association with Theatre Bench and Robin Raynor. The musical composition is done by Darren Clark and the design created by James Hirst. Theatre Bench was launched in October 2012 to support the development of new works in theatre and dance. 'Our Friends The Enemy' tours until 28th November 2014. Tour details can be found HERE.
Production photography by Pamela Raith, Lighting by Derek Anderson and Design by Jay Hirst.