Roberts and Jóhannsson: Now the Hero (Concert Review - The Stage, 2018)

A hundred years since the end of World War One – the war supposedly to end all wars – armed conflicts around the globe continue to cost millions of lives. Through multi-sensory, multi-time frame immersive theatre, Marc Rees’ Now the Hero / Nawr yr Arwr powerfully commemorates the fallen with the cry: “Remembrance is not enough”.

Commissioned by 14-18 Now, this hugely ambitious piece is inspired by Frank Brangwyn’s artwork honouring the sacrifices made by peoples of the British empire; artwork rejected by the House of Lords and housed at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall, in and around which from seashore to clock tower via street promenade and soup kitchen the drama is staged.

It’s a potent mix of quiet reflectiveness and spectacular set-pieces whereby poetry, music and installation art are offset by scenes of visceral symbolism and ferocious agitprop. Women, men and children give voice in tableaux stitched together by Greenham Common activist Eddie Ladd; an extraordinary, fearless presence, she demonstrates that peace protest has its own heroism.

Three soldiers from three eras – Celtic, Great War and modern – emerge from the sea to words from Y Gododdin and more; the ancient Welsh battle poem given further, vivid contemporary resonance by librettist Owen Sheers in a central Requiem by Owen Morgan Roberts. As Steven [sic] Layton’s Polyphony sing – also in memory of deceased co-collaborator, Johan Johannsson – Brangwyn’s surrounding panels melt into trenches of bloody innards within which young men slowly expire.

In a stupendous finale, Ladd’s preternaturally calm, exterior walk down the clock tower speaks of lost generations as the bell tolls once for each decade since 1918. And it suggests that time will continue to stop horrifically for victims of war until war itself is stopped.

Reviewed by Steph Power