Image courtesy of LAPA
Picking up from I left off in yesterday’s post, here is part 2 of my interview with some of the Greater Game Cast. If you missed part 1 you can click through to it here It gives you context about the play, information about who was in the room and the answers to my first interview question
With Question 2, the conversation took a more personal turn, as I asked the cast about their own family histories and whether WWI was something that had ever come up at home.
To share a bit about my background, I know a lot about my families history through WWII, as you’d expect from the grandchild of Polish refugees who found a home in London after the war. But I know that in my own family, the details of how WWI impacted us are much more hazy. I have a vague recollection of my paternal grandmother (that is the French side of my family), who has roots in Alsace talking about two brothers who found themselves fighting on opposing sides. How they are related to me, and whether they survived the war I’ll probably never know, as my grandmother died over 6 years ago now. I suppose I was curious to see if that fog, the almost erasure of personal history following the devastation of WWII was one shared by others.
Anyway, that is enough about me, here is what some of the cast of The Greater Game had to say:
Jack Harding: My great granddad was killed in Passchendaele. I don’t think anyone knows too much about it. My uncle went over there and saw his grave, but no one knows how he died or anything.
Paul Marlon: Again, it is like you said, we are the generation, I mean I’m 40 years old and I’ve got my grandma still alive, she’s 94 and you know that generation were the war generation from WWII. I know a few bits about that, but you very rarely get the chance to go further back and I must admit personally, when you are in this room, I do think that would be an amazing thing to do, to try and trace our families. Either that or wait for “Who do you think you are” to give us a call.
Me: Hopefully they’ll be in seeing the show
James Phelps: I went on a school trip when I was about 12 to the Somme and to Passchendaele, and did all the graves. I actually handed out the poppies on the 81st anniversary at the Menin Gate. While I was at the Menin Gate I went to look and I found the last twins who were in my family. They both died at the age of 16 and their names are on the Menin Gate, but again just doing this, when you’re 12 you can’t, it’s too much information, you see all the graves but you can’t physically put that into your head that this many people died, even when you see the graves there and all the names. It doesn’t compute, but doing this, again when you’re older you take more, what’s the word? Retrospect. It makes more sense to you because you have passed the age of many of the people who died but I think also when it comes to the individuals for this play you are not just seeing numbers now, you are seeing not just names, you are seeing the families and everything else that comes through. So it drives home even more … like we were told yesterday, there were villages wiped out, generations. And just to hear that is bad but then when you really think about it, that’s even more powerful because it’s hard to even compute now when people are worried about offending everybody, you know what I mean, for anything, and this is a totally different kind of warfare that has still got ramifications to this day. We were talking the other day about how, because of the mustard gas and everything, chemical weapons are now a complete no no. Because this was so bad. And I think I was saying earlier, we all talk about WWII, this was an even worse conflict and it seems to just be brushed over in 6 months in school when you’re 11,12 and that’s it.
Michael Head: They didn’t mention it at my school and I even went to the Imperial War Museum when we first started work on this about … 8 years ago and even they went “we’re not really interested” Now they have a WWI section, back then all they had was a trench. It is because, I was joking the other day … WWII had a sexy, evil villain in Hitler, it sort of got jumped on, where WWI was brushed over despite the conflict, despite the carnage, despite the conditions and what people gave and how much people suffered. It is now coming through, but up until a few years ago it was playing second fiddle to ‘Bodyguards of Hitler’ and ‘Shark Week’.
Michael Greco: What I love about it is the enthusiasm these professional footballers had at the time to go to war, because they thought it wasn’t going to last very long, is incredible and there is obviously that juxtaposition with the people who died and destroyed their families. But when you bring it to today’s era how many footballers would want to sign up and go to war? I know it is a different era, because we know more about tragedies and more about what happens. It’s a very difficult comparison, but back then they didn’t realise just how big it was going to be. One of the biggest wars ever in the history of the world.
Me: And now football is so international, which side would they be on? Can you imagine, you could have team that has players on opposing sides because football is such a global industry.
James Phelps: That just goes to show where the world has come because of these conflicts
Me: It ties in with the scene I just saw you rehearsing.
Michael Greco: It ties the world together
Michael Head: It makes the world smaller. There is a famous saying “Brothers will hate brothers until they fight a village… That village will hate the next village until they fight with the next country” And it is so true but once that conflict is over it does make the world a smaller place. Like you said with the footballers, it is interesting there are two brothers, one plays for Germany, one plays for Nigeria. So now, technically if there was another war they could be fighting on opposite armies. And yet they are brothers and we made a big deal of them playing in different football matches. It is such a global world now, it’s conflicts like that that made the world smaller. And also advanced technology.
Me: It is scary that we need wars to advance technology
Michael Head: But sadly, I was speaking earlier with the director, it seems to be that they do go side by side and as much as they are terrible things some good does come from them, it does advance the world and we do learn more. There could never be another war like that, in that sense. Whether it is the pure carnage, where you’ve got 15 years old signing up to fight and die. I actually saw a grave in Flers of a 13-year-old boy who signed up, imagine that now. We do learn from them.
Michael Greco: It would make for some good pictures on Instagram though wouldn’t it? It’s just a different world now. You just can’t compare people today to what they were like back then.
Jack Harding: Back then as well there was more sense of pride, wanting to do anything for King and Country. That’s how they did it. It’s all about doing what you can do for your country, just before in the Victorian Era dying for your country was the biggest honour you could possibly get. To use that is crazy, the thought of that now.
Tom Stocks: Now everyone is offended by it. We’re talking about the whole Poppy thing
Me: To wear or not to wear. Are you glorifying war, that sort of thing?
Tom Stocks: Yeah, exactly. Adam said, the director, you have to take all the politics out of it and you’ve just got to show what the story is, which is men lost their lives for this country, whether you wear a poppy or not, you remember that. It shouldn’t be about whether you wear a poppy or not, it is about remembering those things and not being a snowflake and getting offended by it.
Paul Marlon: We’ve not discussed once in this room, ironically, our own thoughts or feelings on the war and our own opinions because in some respects it is not about that. And as Adam said from day one, this is not our political view, I’m not saying it is right or wrong, we are just here to tell a story of facts, and we are also here to tell a story of history and to honour those people. Whether they are in our story or whether they are part of the whole story of the world war. So that is what we are here to do.
James Phelps: The one thing we all agree on is that it is about remembering what happened
Paul Marlon: Yes, it has to be told
James Phelps: And that everybody should know the story, and many of the stories, obviously not just this one, but because we get a chance to tell this story, I just feel very honoured to be able to do it. Especially 100 years after, umm 102 years after it actually happened. I think it is very life changing. May be too strong to say after 3 days
Paul Marlon: I’ll let you go a week.
James Phelps: It is definitely something that stays with you. Normally, when I’ve done work, as soon as I leave the door, my character is left in the dressing room and I pick it up the next day. Whereas on this one, when I get on the train back home I’m thinking still. When I go to bed I’m still thinking.
Steven Bush: James saw his character’s medals
James Phelps: Yeah, which again really hit home. And you’re thinking these actually existed. This man was given these for these brave acts. My guy, before he even went to war and got all these medals, he rescued two kids from drowning in the river Lea and a baby from a burning house, so he was a genuine hero before he even went to war. On top of also being a football player with 60,000 people a week watching.
Michael Head: And every life is precious regardless. I’ve tried not to make the play political, I’ve tried not to make it pro or anti-war cos I’m just not clever enough to do that. There are knock-ons from that and it is touched on in the play. The reality is the families are coming to see this and Steven who is playing Jonas, will be meeting the great grand daughter and the great grand son. James is playing MacFadden will be meeting the great niece and the great nephew, cos they never had kids, so whatever your thoughts are, wherever you sit, the reality is this guy died so young and his wife never remarried so there is no off-spring there. Even now, on Facebook, there is a nephew and a niece but there was never any kids, there were never any grandkids. That lined stopped. That’s what we’re trying to remember as well. These are people’s lives, and the knock-ons of that. I’ve tried to make it as much about the wives back home and how they were effected and the manager played by Michael (Greco) he didn’t get a chance to… he fought before in the Boer War but he didn’t get a chance to go. It devastated everyone. We can mention the 70,000 that died, what about the 150,000 back home weeping them 70,000 that died. To then meet the off-spring off that is special. Chelsea pensioners come to see the show, we’ve got a lot of people from ticket for troops. It’s lovely to be able to give a little something back to that community, and be able to share in that with people who have lived that life.
Tomorrow I’ll be posting the 3rd and, sadly (because I’ve loved doing this), installment of my chat with the cast, focusing on what they hope audiences will take away from seeing The Greater Game. UPDATE: Final post is up and you can short cut to it here
If you want to find out more information about the show, or to book tickets you can go to https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/the-greater-game
The show runs from 30th October to 25th November 2018