A group of injured veterans are preparing to take part in a series of epic outdoor performances this Summer to mark the centenary of the end of WWI.
The piece, entitled ‘This Is Not for You’, is an on and off the ground performance paying moving tribute to Britain’s wounded war veterans, whose contributions to history often go unnoticed. It chronicles veterans’ fight for respect and remembrance, told with heft, beauty and wry humour, with audio description and sign language in integral parts of the production.
Among the Blesma cast performing are amputees, wheelchair users, and those who have visual impairments and brain injuries. Some have lost limbs to IED blasts, while others have been devastated by accidents. The injured veterans have been especially trained for the piece by Graeae, (pronounced grey eye), the UK’s flagship theatre company for D/deaf and disabled artists and the National Centre for Circus Arts.
Through snapshots of three Armistice Days, audiences will be taken on a journey that spans 100 years of history; this is a story of past and present sacrifices and a continual fight for respect, rights and remembrance. Through song, movement and physical theatre, the production explores the reality of returning from war that often juxtaposes with the vibrant celebrations of peace.
The performance is a Graeae Theatre Production, co-commissioned by military charity Blesma, The Limbless Veterans and 14-18 NOW, supported by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), The Drive Project, National Centre for Circus Arts and Arts Council England.
Jenny Waldman, director of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the first World War centenary, says: “This powerful work by Graeae and Blesma puts the experiences and performance of disabled veterans centre stage. At the end of the First World War, almost one million British combatants had died, but a further two million returned home with some level of permanent disability. We are proud to commission This is Not for You, as a highlight of our final 14-18 NOW season, in which we continue to engage people in the centenary of the First World War through the lens of art.”
The production, directed by Jenny Sealey, written by Mike Kenny and performed by Members of Blesma, The Limbless Veterans, will be premiering in Woolwich as part of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival on Armed Forces Day (June 30th) and Sunday 1st July, alongside performances in Woolwich and Stockton on Thursday 2nd August and Friday 3rd August. All performances are free to attend and are fully accessible, with creative British Sign Language and audio description.
Blesma Member and performer Carole King, who had her leg amputated in 2006, said: “To be back in a troop of like-minded people, to grow and see where we started and to where we will end we will give me back the confidence that I have lacked over that last two years. I can’t sit back anymore and what a way to say, ‘hey, I’m back and raring to go.’”
Jenny Sealey, Graeae’s Artistic Director, who co-directed the London Paralympic Games opening ceremony says: “I look for performers who have a strength, a maverick sense, and the willingness to take a risk. These skills can help in a very interesting way in terms of their long- term rehabilitation. Blesma’s performers have a drive, resilience, and a beautiful vulnerability. The guys I’ve talked to wear their hearts on their sleeves and are very emotionally literate.”
“Graeae’s vision is to fight the inequality and the lack of visibility of D/deaf and disabled people in theatre. We want to push the boundaries into the arts in general. It’s about putting D/deaf and disabled people centre stage. After injury, there are many barriers to break through to feel like a person again, and that’s why organisations like Blesma are so important.”
Blesma’s Operations Director, Ian Waller says: “In the immediate aftermath of World War I, returning soldiers who had suffered life changing injuries banded together to help each other. Wounded soldiers drew upon the spirit of camaraderie which had helped them survive the appalling conditions, extreme danger and trauma of four years of trench warfare. 100 years on it is Blesma’s duty to honour the lives lost as well as the survivors, and to carry the message forward for future generations.”
Jenny hopes that audiences will come away with a new perspective on what it means to be a soldier: “The show will demonstrate the extraordinariness of the human spirit, and it ends with quite a euphoric moment, with our actors saying; “Look at us.”
Where to see the show?
Greenwich+Docklands International Festival
Saturday 30 June & Sunday 1 July
3pm & 7.30pm (both days)
Artillery Square, Royal Arsenal Riverside, Woolwich, London SE18 4DX
Kindly supported by Berkeley Home
Stockton International Riverside Festival
Thursday 2 August 8.30pm &
Friday 3 August 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Stockton High Street, Stockton-on-Tees
All performances are free to attend and are fully accessible, with creative British Sign Language and audio description.
Running time 1 hour (approx.)
Suitable for all ages.