Far, Far From Ypres began life as a double CD of World War One material, produced by the redoubtable Ian Green of Greentrax Records. The stage show based on the recordings received an enthusiastic reception at Celtic Connections earlier this year, and those who missed the show in Glasgow were given a one-night opportunity to catch it at the Queen’s Hall on 16th August.
In truth, it's something of a mixed bag and now and then a bit of a curate’s egg, excellent in parts, although one wonders about the choice of some of the material - more of this in a moment.
The premise of the stage show is to follow, sometimes at some distance, the experience of a single Scottish private on the Western Front.
Serbia and Scotland vie for the distinction of the largest number of fatal casualties in World War One. Serbia lost 150,000, Scotland 140,000. Across Scotland civic memorials and other crosses and plaques are daily reminders of how many were lost to a small country. Far, Far From Ypres as a stage show aims to remind us of that.
Given the number of performers involved, it’s perhaps not surprising that the material chosen feels not only varied but also variable, though individual and group performances are never less than excellent.
It’s an almost inevitable issue with any form of anthology – and Far, Far From Ypres is, necessarily, the sum of its parts – that what’s left out becomes as telling as what is included.
In a show that is clearly intended to relate the Scottish experience of World War One, there seemed to be an over-reliance on material from furth of Scotland. Thus ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ featured more than once. Initially introduced by Irish Volunteer units, it became the ‘Lili Marlene’ of the British forces in France. Too significant to ignore, certainly, but to sing it twice … ? This, of course, is part of the problem a performance of this nature throws up. The Scottish experience of the time was also very much a British one, and our contemporary sensibilities are not those the generation of a century ago would share.
It’s perhaps understandable that Far, Far From Ypres should go for the immediately recognisable in some cases, and the performance is of course, pre-determined by the CD, but apart from Violet Jacob’s wonderful poem ‘Halloween’, the Scottish contribution to World War One literature felt thinner than need be.
So this reviewer wondered why Brooke and Sassoon were quoted, in preference to Charles Hamilton Sorley or (any reverse nepotism aside), J B Salmond? Although lesser poets, their reflections, and indeed vocabulary, probably mirror more truthfully the experience of the Scottish fighting man than representatives of the officer corps.
These may seem to be cavils, but a stronger show might have emerged if a more courageous line had been taken with respect to the selected material.
Having been less than generous thus far, it’s only fair to say that a packed Queen’s Hall responded very enthusiastically to some truly tremendous singing and playing.
Event: 16 August, 7.30pm
Tickets: £16 (£14)