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Review of Glockenspiel at Tristan Bates Theatre

GlockenspielMilitary life isn’t for everyone. Even in peacetime, it puts a lot of strain on not only the serviceman or woman but also their family and friends. In a time of conflict, that strain gets even more intense. This gets worse if the service man/woman doesn’t fully believe in the cause and justness of the action they are being ordered to take. However, possibly the most difficult part of military life is when it ends. After a lifetime of service, adjusting to civilian life can be traumatic, to say the least. All of these themes and more are examined in Steven Dykes Glockenspiel at Soho’s Tristan Bates Theatre.

Glockenspiel tells the story of the funerals of three current and former members of the American armed forces. Whilst none of the deceased died on active service, they are all entitled to and receive a military funeral. At each, the Defence Department has supplied an Honour Guard (Aruna Jollah and Lolade Rufai) who are there to represent the people of the USA and hand over the flag that was draped over the coffin with the words “This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” The funerals are very different. Single mother Debra (Tolu Stedford) attends the service of her daughter with her friend Yolanda (Laura Asare). Eloise (Katie Glaister) is coming to terms with the suicide of her husband, whilst keeping a secret from her sister-in-law Zinnie (Coren Lawrence) and her partner Assistant Professor Josh (Jon Parry). And finally, Justine (Hebe Renard) the young widow of a retired colonel must face the disapproval of his daughter who blames her for the death of her father. The funerals are overseen by undertaker Andre (Parys Jordon) an ex-military man with demons of his own to face.

To describe Glockenspiel as hard-hitting would be to understate this powerful play that examines so much aside from the obvious military angle to the various people’s lives. I liked the fact that Playwright/Director Steven Dykes actually allowed the audience to see both sides of the argument of the discussion on the need for the military. The writing was also interesting for two other points from my perspective. The first was that all three of the funerals were for members of the BME community – who make up around 30% of the American armed forces whilst being only 22% of the American population overall – and included mixed race relationships both accepted and resented. The second is that the term “War on Terror” was first coined in September 2001 which means that come next year, there will be members of the various military forces taking part in a conflict that began before they were born. Food for thought.

The writing was matched by some equally fine acting from the cast. In particular, I would like to single out Tolu Stedford who was truly outstanding as Debra, trying to hold everything together whilst not really understanding why her daughter had died. Her final lines to Andre and Yolanda moved me to tears as she stood proud and erect forcing herself to go through the social niceties despite her world falling down around her. A truly wonderful performance from a fantastic actor. I also want to mention Aruna Jalloh for his portrayal of a soldier. Whilst not a huge role in terms of lines, the soldier was an almost constant presence on the stage and it takes a lot of skill to be able to be perfectly still yet at the same time be in every scene representing the constant presence – either directly or indirectly – of the military in the life of everyone.

The direction was spot on most of the time and I particularly liked the opening to Act II where the calm, self-possessed and reflective images of Zinnie sitting at the side was a marked contrast to the events happening in the centre of the stage. Whilst I though the set by Justin Williams was interesting, I’m not completely certain I fully understood what it represented and my impressions of it changed quite a bit over the course of the production. The costumes were really great and very appropriate. For once I can’t complain about the uniforms – a real bugbear for me – which looked pretty authentic, though I would advise whoever puts them away to watch how they fold them – a No 1 uniform would never be creased in the way that Carmen’s skirt was.

Overall then, Glockenspiel is a very deep, multi-layered production that is gripping in its writing and presentation. It left me really moved and thoughtful as I considered the plight not only of those that protect us day and night but the other people in their lives for whom the news is not just some happenings in far flung places but in fact something that will have an effect on them forever.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

A new play by Steven Dykes
Three funerals. One town. The longest war in its history.
Far from the war waging overseas, a small American town is rocked by the deaths of three soldiers. As we meet the relatives we discover none of the dead were killed on active duty; the conspiracy behind each inglorious death preventing families from coming to terms with their loss.

‘Glockenspiel’ explores the lives of those left behind on the home front, celebrating the humour and spirit of ordinary people trapped in an extraordinary situation. Duty, Loyalty, Patriotism:
What is the true cost of the War on Terror?
“They drape a flag over a box, we get to stand in the rain, and the world’s a safer place because of it.” – Glockenspiel, by Steven Dykes.

Cast: Laura Asare, Katie Glaister, Jon Parry, Hebe Renard, Lolade Rufai and Tolu Stedford

Creatives: Director & Writer Steven Dykes
Company Producer Darius Thompson
Co-producers Jon Parry & Rebecca Gwyther
Composer James Neale
Designer Justin Williams (THE OFFIES Nominated)
Assistant Designer Jonny Rust
Sound Designer Edmund Shaw
Lighting Designer William Steggles
Casting Director Ewa Kolozieiska

A new play by Steven Dykes
Wed 4 – Sat 14 Jan 2017


1 thought on “Review of Glockenspiel at Tristan Bates Theatre”

  1. Christopher Robert Kingston

    The production was outstanding. Steven Dykes has a real winner. Lolade Rufai’s performance was over the top and I look forward to seeing her work in the future.

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