During the second World War, Denis Marshall wrote a series of letters to his sweetheart back home in Surrey. Marshall was a socialist and a pacifist but served as a signaller. His grandson, trumpet player Tom Poulson, has used some of these letters to inspire this piece of musical theatre with the clever word play of the title The Last Post.
The actual role of these letters, written with the formality of the time, is quite minimal with only four being read across the performance. For the most part, Poulson plays music, on his trumpet using various mutes to vary the sounds. Composer Alistair MacDonald augments his abstract, avant garde work with computer sounds that he operates from the old table that forms part of the props sitting in the middle of what is a stark, open space with a black backdrop.
Poulson plays with consummate skill the music that aims to ‘[reflect] the technology and sounds of the era’ but that is esoteric, apart from hints at Glen Miller, some jazz and a train effect. Interpretation by someone with a deep understanding of musical symbolism may be possible but, as it stands, it is difficult to marry the sounds with the narrative of the letters. It is easy to drift as these sounds waft around the large room. This is a piece that would work better in a more intimate setting with some visuals of the letters to keep them in the mind of the audience. They are missing a trick here as to see words written in someone’s unique hand is laden with power once they have gone, whether you know them or not.
The long period allowed for the audience to read one of the letters during the show means an awkward silence. That letter could have been handed out at the end as a souvenir and would not have felt like padding in this efficiently produced and controlled show.
There is a distinct lack of emotion involved in what should be a poignant and moving experience - essentially a musical love letter from grandson to grandfather. Instead it feels somewhat indulgent and slightly cold.
The final letter, read by Poulson like a radio announcer with microphone, involves an imaginary romantic meal between the soldier and his sweetheart that offers scope for the missing element in this earnest piece.
The Last Post is part of this year’s Made in Scotland Showcase and part of the inaugural Army @the Fringe.
17 – 22 (not 21) August at 15.30