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Remembrance 2021 : The Snow Goose and the magic of live theatre

Wednesday July 4th 1990 was a hot summer’s day, a day which lives long in the memory for football fans. The majority of the country spent that day in a heightened state of anticipation as, for the first time since 1966, the England football team had reached the semi-finals of the World Cup.

So, for a fifteen year old football fan, living in the footballing mecca of Northampton, the schedule for that day was clear.

School. Come home. Get homework done. Turn on ITV. Watch the game.

But, as ever, things weren’t that simple. While the rest of the population spent the day dreaming of what Lineker, Barnes and Gascoigne were going to achieve that evening, my thoughts were taken up with Goneril, Cordelia and Regan!

Six months before, my parents had booked us tickets to go to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see King Lear.

Start time : 7.30pm. Kick off in Turin : 7.30pm.

I was livid. I was sulking. No, my parents said I couldn’t stay at home. Yes, I had to go with them. It was a treat and the tickets had been booked for … six months!

All this was in my mind recently as about 450 KS2 primary school children filtered into churches, in Rushden and Wootton, over four performances to watch our Remembrance-themed production of The Snow Goose. For some, this was the first piece of live theatre they had ever attended; for the majority, this was certainly their first experience of theatre since the beginning of the pandemic.

As they waited in their seats for the performance to start, my thoughts returned to July 1990. As a compromise - and, most probably, to get me in the car - my parents allowed me to record the football match (on VHS, of course) and get up early the following morning to watch it before school. They also agreed not to turn on the radio in the car on the way home from Stratford, so I would avoid finding out the result - this was an age before Twitter, 24 hour news and Google!

I didn’t find out the result, watched it “as if live” the next morning and enjoyed a tiring (and miserable) day at school the next day.

So, what do I remember about July 4th 1990?

Yes, I remember Gary Lineker’s goal. Yes, I remember Gazza crying. Yes, I remember Chris Waddle blasting the penalty over the bar.

But, much more clearly than any of that I can still see, in my mind, the staging of the storm in the production of King Lear. I can see Lear wandering around, alone on the stage; I remember feeling intensely sorry for him. I remember the blinding of Gloucester and how unfair it seemed. I recall thinking that I didn’t understand all of what was being said, but it was obvious something amazing was happening. And I loved it!

This wasn’t the first piece of theatre I saw, but it is the one I most remember from my childhood. Much as I resented it at the time, I am glad my parents forced me into the car that evening.

That is why thirty years later, as so many primary school children sat waiting for the performances of The Snow Goose to begin, all this came back to me.

Live theatre is very special and our Remembrance 2021 project allowed us to open the eyes of another generation of potential enthusiasts to its magic. Furthermore, through exploring the themes themselves in workshops and then watching the performance in the atmospheric church venues, we hope to have shone a light on the importance of Remembrance and inspired some of the young people we worked with to further an interest. Perhaps it was the history which excited them most : the incredible human story of the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk. Maybe they were attracted to the snow goose and the powerful and inescapable relationship between man and nature, even in the darkest of times. Perhaps it was the character of Rhayader that caught their attention, a disabled man who did incredible things.

Whatever piqued an interest most, we hope that by bringing the creative arts to their communities, we have become a part of their experience of the arts which, like it has for that once fifteen year old Northampton boy in 1990 who is writing this for you today, will last a lifetime.

For younger readers, England lost the match … but you probably guessed that!

Photography by Sam Blaxley

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