Between the 28th July 2014 and the 11th November 2018 there will be a lot of celebrations of events that occurred one hundred years ago. The Great War started with a pointless assassination in 1914 and ended four years later, with the deaths of over nine million combatants and seven million civilians, in an armistice that laid the foundation for the rise of the Nazi party and WWII. Every family in the UK was touched by WWI and even now, a century later, its influence is still there. For writer Tom Stuchfield researching his family genealogy, WWI became a very personal voyage of discovery, and the fruits of his work can be seen in his production The Cavalry Behind You at Theatre 503.
The Cavalry Behind You is not a play, it is a spoken story of six people and their time in the war to end all wars. There is Austrian soldier Volker (Chris Born) who promises his Italian wife Isabella (Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes) that he won’t kill anyone as he goes off to war. Spencer (Tom Stuchfield) is English but goes to fight for France, leaving his French born wife Mathilde (Julia Kass) at home with his sister. Spencer’s former school ‘friend’ Dixon (Guy Clark) is a junior officer in the English army. And finally, as the Americans join the war in 1917, Sgt Wilkinson (Max Roberts) leaves his father behind and makes the journey from the USA to Europe. Two married couples and two single men whose lives would never have come together if it hadn’t been for war.
As well as writing and playing in The Cavalry Behind You, Tom Stuchfield also directs the piece. Set on a black stage with six lecterns, each cast member wears the uniform or clothing appropriate to their character, and I have to say that I was really impressed with the very authentic costumes. Somebody has obviously done some intense research to get the uniforms, helmets, and accoutrements just right. And you really got the feeling that the writing had been equally as well researched. I was really fascinated with the notion that the Americans had sent a group of soldiers over simply to be seen. Other elements that I really enjoyed were the interaction between Volke and ‘Gunner’ and Mathilde and her sister-in-law. Some excellent writing and acting.
However, I think the show was slightly too long at around two and a half hours including interval.The writing and staging were so good that I was fully gripped by the six atmospherically lit figures telling their stories on the stage so, the interval and a return to ‘normality’ actually felt intrusive. I would have preferred to see the performance straight through. Still, that is a personal niggle and, listening to conversations around me during the interval, the first half had really provoked a lot of interest.
All told, The Cavalry Behind You is a fascinating glimpse into an age that, while being a century ago, is still relevant today. Human stories of an inhuman war bring the reality to life in a way that a documentary never could. Looking back now, I have to say that, surprisingly, my favourite character was the Austrian Volker – whose story is possibly the most profound of the six, and the one I had least sympathy for was the American Wilkinson who irritated me from the start and didn’t get any better when he hit Europe.
So, finally then. The Cavalry Behind You is a well written and acted piece that covers a difficult subject in a very non-judgemental and fair way. It is emotional and intense and kept me hooked from start to finish and is definitely recommended. One final thing for the author. If you ever publish the script as a playtext, please let me know as I would really love to get a copy.
Review by Terry Eastham
A soldier lies breathless in the mud of the Somme, and cannot bring himself to fire another shot. In the mountains of Austria, a man swears he’ll never fire one. Leaving his wide in England, a volunteer stalks a man he has sworn to destroy. A wife endures a life of loneliness and slavery, and a son leaves the father who hates him. A young girl fills shells with gunpowder, and the war stumbles madly into its fourth year.
Six stories, and a million things that can kill you.
About the company
The Cavalry Behind You has been developed from And The Horse You Rode In On, which the team performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014, which was shortlisted for the NSDF Best New Play. Earlier this year they presented The Wives of Others at OSO Arts Centre to sell-out audiences.
Chris Born, Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes, Julia Kass, Tom Stuchfield, Guy Clark and Max Roberts
Writer/Director – Tom Stuchfield
Producer – Laura Sedgwick
Lighting and Sound – Johannes Ruckstuhl
The Cavalry Behind You
By Tom Stuchfield
3rd & 4th July | 7:45pm
Theatre503 | 503 Battersea Park Road, London