A true story of love between a young Royal Engineer and his sweetheart during the First World War
STREAMING UNTIL 30 JUNE 2020
“A poignant story, brilliantly delivered – the audience response on the night spoke for itself” – Shona Powell OBE, Nottingham Lakeside Arts
When Arthur discovered a locked wooden chest filled with letters in his late mother’s home, an unlikely tale of love was uncovered…
Edith and Geoffrey spend only four incomplete days together before Geoffrey goes to the Front to work for the Royal Engineer Tunnellers below the Ypres Salient. Over the next 18 months, hope is sustained and a relationship blossoms through little more than written correspondence. Despite their circumstances, Edith and Geoff’s letters are full of light and life. They tease and joke with each other, writing about shows they have seen, articles they have read and music they have been listening to.
It is impossible not to be moved by this real-life story of romance, at once personal, universal, exhilarating and truly poignant. Letters from the Front offers audiences a glimpse into the lives of two truly remarkable people during the First World War. The play adaptation is based very closely on Edith and Geoff’s letters, and most of the words you will hear are the real words that Edith and Geoff wrote to each other.
‘Letters from the Front’ began its life as a solo storytelling piece called ‘Gladys’, commissioned by a community group for their HLF-funded WWI centenary event (2014). The remit was ‘Then and Now’.
Having scoured the archives in Stoke for local stories, it was finally through a web search, that I came across a book filled with letters exchanged between a young couple – Edith and Geoff – based in the Midlands (near where I am based) during the First World War. The book was called: ‘Thirty-Odd Feet Below Belgium’ and was compiled and edited by Edith’s son, Arthur Stockwin – with whom I have since developed a great friendship.
I read the letters in one sitting, and was deeply moved. The piece I initially developed was based on the experiences of Edith. After sharing the story, I was very critical and left with the feeling that I had not done her words justice, I wanted to improve and develop the piece further – this time to include both sides of the exchange and was pleased to be asked to do so for the brilliant, Shoot Festival in Coventry. This version was shared at the Belgrade Theatre (2017) and was a little longer.
The commission allowed me to build on the initial idea and to continue to share what I felt was an important story – and one that deserved a wider audience. In September 2018, I applied for and received funding from Arts Council England, Coventry University, The Fenton Arts Trust and Royal Holloway Student Workshop as well as partnering with venues including the Royal Engineers Museum, Brewhouse Arts Centre and Lakeside Arts to preview a fuller performance and gather audience feedback.
I also wanted to provide some of my own animation graduates (at Coventry University where I work) with a paid opportunity, as well as to support the development of a Theatre undergraduate at RHUL (where I was studying for my MRes with the Drama, Theatre and Dance department) with a paid assistant directing opportunity. I was very pleased to work alongside Rebecca Goh for this, whose ideas and energy were invaluable.
Since then, the production has continued to develop creatively, receiving further funding from the Arts Council and touring to theatres and rural venues across England, reaching over 1,500 people through workshops and performances. I have been fortunate throughout, to be working with an amazing, experienced and dedicated team. ‘Letters from the Front’ toured with Highlights Rural Touring network to the North East and West of England at the end of February this year.
I toured with my family, including my two boys (aged 3 and 7) and it was magical to drive through the snow-filled hills and empty roads from one venue to another in such a beautiful part of the world. Little did I know that just over three weeks later, theatres would be closed temporarily and many events cancelled.
That time, now seems so long ago. During this difficult time – one that has been so hard for so many people, I am reminded of Edith and Geoff’s story of love and loss and of what incredible people they were. I reflect too, that at a time where numbers and statistics frequently fill our screens, the human stories behind those numbers must be heard. It gives me huge pleasure to be able to share this story as part of Royal Holloway’s Festival Interrupted.
Actors: Maisie Young & Joseph Passafaro
Directors: Gloria Lowe & Martin Berry
Assistant Director: Rebecca Goh
Adapter & Producer: Gloria Lowe
Composer & Sound Designer: Joshua Goodman
Pianist: Peter Allsop
Animation Director: Francis Lowe
Storyboard Artist: Elena Ciolacu
Animators: Dominic Leatham & Ben Wooding
Set Designer: Rebecca Constable
Stage Manager: Alistair Richardson Laurens (“bungo”)
Production Manager: Sharon White
Videographer: Richard Swainson
Lighting Design: Nick Morris
With special thanks to: Trinity School Nottingham, Arthur Stockwin, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, In Good Company, Hannah Stone, Ola Animashawun, Barrett Hodgson and all those who contributed recorded letters: Ranald Sheriffs, Joe Brightley, Laura Jean Ross, Jason Wrightham, Liz Lewis and Sabina & Georg Winkler.
About the creators
Gloria Lowe – Co-director, Adapter & Producer
Gloria is a first-year PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. She has worked on a wide variety of creative projects as a writer, performer and theatre-maker. As a performer, she has toured in productions for different audiences working in venues including the Brighton Dome, Tricycle Theatre, Lincoln Drill Hall, The Gulbenkian, Colchester Arts Centre, Belgrade Theatre and Oxford Playhouse, as well as in educational, rural & care settings. Her work both for her own organisation Glow and as a Lecturer at Coventry University has seen her delivering workshops and teaching in schools, colleges and universities across the UK, India and Singapore.
Martin Berry – Co-director
Martin trained at Rose Bruford College and has a Masters Degree in Directing for Theatre, TV and Radio from the Bristol Old Vic. Previous credits include: Beauty and The Beast and Cinderella (Queens Theatre Hornchurch), Smile (UK tour with Tiger Press Publishing), Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be? (Webber Douglas Studio), Hubbub a Musical Adventure (2 UK tours), The Libertine (Ovalhouse London), The Last Five Years (Tobacco Factory Theatre), The Lonesome West (Alma Tavern), A Christmas Carol, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Lysistrata, Oh What a Lovely War, Little Shop of Horrors, Doctor Faustus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Wiz (Nottingham Lakeside) and The League of Youth (Nottingham Playhouse).
Rebecca Goh – Assistant Director
Rebecca studied Drama and Philosophy at Royal Holloway University of London. She has worked as a freelance drama educator and instructor for professional theatre companies over the past few years, sharing her love for the art and its transformative capabilities with youths from all walks of life. She has been previously involved in multiple student and professional productions as a director, writer, actor, and producer. Her interests lie mainly in social-specific and absurdist theatre, with a particular artistic focus on multimedia and movement techniques.
Joshua Goodman – Composer & Sound Designer
Joshua has worked on a range of theatre projects including both The Jungle Book and Lysistrata at the Lakeside Arts Centre. Other credits include: Pygmalion (The English Theatre Frankfurt), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Beggars of York (York Theatre Royal), Any Mother Would (Next Door But One), Cinderella (Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch), Moby Dick (Theatre Mill), Live Bolero (Dance4/Nottingham Playhouse), Home Sweet Home (Freedom Studios and national tour), Othello (The Met, Bury), Animal Farm and The Bloody Chamber (John Cooper Studio). Joshua has also worked extensively in participatory and youth theatre.
Rebecca Constable – Set Designer
Rebecca graduated with a first-class honour’s degree in Theatre Design at Nottingham Trent University and won The Nottingham Playhouse Prize 2018 for her set and costume designs for ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller. In 2016, she was awarded Young Creative of the year and has recently being nominated for the Naomi Wilkinson Award for stage design. Previous projects include, work as Set Designer for The Elves and The Shoemaker (Nottingham Playhouse, 2018) and When They Go Low (Connections Festival).
Francis Lowe – Animation Director
Francis started his career working as a special effects and animation assistant in Hollywood on movies ‘Alien 3’, ‘Solar Crisis’, ‘Horizon’ and ‘Tom and Jerry the Movie’. Returning to his native Ireland, he graduated from the Dun Laoghaire School of Art & Design and went on to work as lead animator for children’s television in the UK. After working on programmes including CITV’s ‘Wolves, Witches and Giants’ and BAFTA-nominated ‘Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids’, Francis began to pursue work that stepped away from the animator’s desk and studio to engender its creation. Francis is Course Director for the BA Illustration & Animation at Coventry University.