When you hear the words ‘war correspondent’, what comes to mind? Depending on your age, it may be Brian Hanrahan stating ‘I counted them all out and I counted them all back ‘during the Falklands or Rageh Omaar standing in the square in Baghdad as the statue of Saddam was torn down, and we all remember Kate Adie in her blue flak jacket reporting from pretty much everywhere conflict arose in the late 1990s. Today, in our eternal quest for 24 hour news coverage, journalists are spending an increasing amount of time reporting from the various war zones around the world.
This then is the backdrop to the ‘Helen Chadwick Song Theatre’ production of “War Correspondents” at the Stratford Circus. Using interviews from genuine journalists, composer/performer Helen Chadwick has put together a series of scenes comprising of songs and monologues reflecting the reality of life as a war correspondent. Singing acapella, Helen and her fellow performers, James Lailey, Michael Mears, Oliver Senton and Rebecca Thorn perform their songs and give the audience a glimpse of what happens off-camera to those members of the profession willing to risk all to bring the truth out. The stage is littered with various items that are used to simulate everything from a tent where the correspondents shelter from constant shelling, to a cell where a captured female journalist is made to look pretty as she is forced to record a video for her captors. Between songs, recordings of interviews are played and stories, both good and bad, are told to the audience. There were many but some, such as the reality of photographing the aftermath of conflict and what to do when you meet the man who has been trying to shoot you, really stuck in my mind and remind everyone that at the end of the day journalists are human beings with the same emotions, fears and thoughts as the rest of us. There are 29 songs in this production, many of which were highly memorable such as ‘Kit’, explaining what should be taken on a trip to a war zone and ‘News Management’ with its political message that may or may not strike a chord with everyone. Ultimately though, whilst you may not always agree with the sentiments of all of the songs, its important to remember that the majority of them are the thoughts and experiences of the journalists themselves. The final song, ‘I Keep Hoping’ was especially moving and, given recent events, very poignant.
Credit must be given to the entire cast. Singing live without music or a conductor must be hard work, but they did it whilst also moving around the stage, moving props and sometimes changing clothes to effect a smooth transition between scenes. It takes a company that is well rehearsed and at ease with each other to do all of this effectively and with no hiccups. This was particularly true during the glass-sharing scene which got its own well deserved round of applause when it ended.
This one act show is good without being spectacular. I wasn’t sure if there was ultimately a message that it was trying to get across, but what I do know is that next time I tune in to one of the news channels to find out what is happening in some far flung conflict area, I will certainly spare a thought for the flak jacketed journalist and their team, risking all to keep me up to date.
Review by Terry Eastham