This acclaimed solo drama interweaves material from the First World War diaries of Captain Alexander Stewart with the contemporary reflections of his grandson, the actor Cameron Stewart. This is an undeniably powerful account comparing the very different lives led by young men from generations at opposite ends of the twentieth century.
Renowned, award-winning solo performer David Benson adapts and directs this production, which features many of the hallmarks that set Benson’s solo work apart from the crowd, particularly with its autiobiographical aspect and the dark thread of comedy that emerges from the most unlikely of situations.
Following its premiere at the 2008 Edinburgh fringe, where it was nominated as Best Solo Show in The Stage awards, the show has toured extensively, and paid a short return visit to the 2009 Edinburgh fringe, where it once again attracted five star reviews.
‘Having returned to the Fringe for its second year, My Grandfather’s Great War has evidently lost none of its vigour or power. As you listen to Cameron Stewart wax vividly about the horrors and the mud, it almost becomes as if he ceases to be the man and begins to channel the very spirit of his ancestor. The grim stories of the hardships and sadnesses at lost friends is as cutting as the futility and utter soul-crushing madness of the actions forced on an entire generation, slaughtered like cattle in the name of politics. What sets this piece apart from many you will see at the Festival is the very real sense that you are peering into another age but more than that, seeing the living embodiment of what good has come from the sacrifices. Much of this lies with the affability and almost brotherly camaraderie that Cameron, an ever pleasing raconteur in his own right, imbues in every moment, at once making every member of the audience feel as if they are simply listeing to an old friend opening their heart to them. A fitting tribute to the common soldier, in a time when it is needed more than ever.’
***** British Theatre Guide
‘The most affecting show in town is a simple, honest tribute by one man to his grandfather. The actor Cameron Stewart has, with the assistance of adaptor/director David Benson, brought the First World War diaries of Captain Alexander Stewart to the stage. When Stewart steps into “character” as his stoical, decent, dependable – and, yes, heroic – grandfather, the piece brings home the mud, terror and physical agony of the Western Front with a visceral urgency that sets your heart racing.’
‘Although Stewart is convincing as he movingly reenacts passages from the diary, it is when he offers his own insight and thoughts that the show excels. Stewart’s dilemma is that, evidently, he has an immense admiration for his grandfather and his actions, yet he abhors warfare. This brings him to contemplate the legacy of the “Great” War. An accessible show that is informative, entertaining, and poignant.’
**** Edinburgh Evening News
‘His re-enactments of the Somme are so effective you can almost see the blasted landscape littered with corpses and hear the doomed cries of men drowning in mud. While most of his fellow soldiers were killed, Alexander survived the war despite taking part in three major offensives. On one mission he even charged into enemy trenches and single-handedly captured a German machine gun post, a thrilling episode which Stewart recreates with tremendous energy. What is most shocking about the show is not the graphic violence but the revelation that Alexander and thousands like him knew exactly what they were letting themselves in for when they signed up, and were prepared to face almost certain death for king and country. Stewart ponders whether he would have done the same and questions whether he could ever live up to the memory of his grandfather. In the early 20th century, going to war was a straightforward way of proving your masculinity, but these days the issue is obscured in moral confusion. Although a personal tribute to his grandfather, My Grandfather’s Great War also offers a poignant meditation on the nature of humanity and war.’
‘Cameron Stewart is a fine actor with an engaging personal presence; his ability to breathe life into words written almost a century ago is considerable, and his engagement with his audience equally so. Every so often the Fringe throws up something unexpectedly special, and My Grandfather’s Great War is among these. Strewn amid the tales of being trapped armpit high in mud and rats licking “Brilliantine” from Captain Stewart’s hair, of horrific attacks and horrendous casualties, the humanity of Cameron Stewart’s grandfather and the men he served with shine through. Their heroism is as much that of the survivor as the soldier, their hopes and dreams simple as pleasures taken among family and friends. To regard the “lost generations” as naive or ludicrously optimistic is to ignore voices as shrewd and aware as Captain Stewart’s.‘
‘This is no dry recitation of journal entries or tedious history lesson. Rather, it is an incredibly moving depiction of that terrible war. Much of the credit must go to Captain Stewart himself for his candour, his literary skill and his grim humour. His grandson Cameron is a very able performer, relaxed and spirited as occasion demands. His confidence and affable demeanour encourage the audience to follow his every word, while his portrait of his grandfather during the war, resiliently suffering all the iniquities of trench warfare, is excellent. The cohesive sound and light design creates a broad landscape, and allows for moments that are quite terrifying. The occasional projected photographs of soldiers bring a great sense of loss for those who died so wantonly. Stewart is justifiably proud of his grandfather, a recipient of the Military Cross and a man of astounding bravery. The memory of the conflict is fading already but its effects still reverberate down to us today, making this production essential viewing.’
The Stage – Must See Show (Edinburgh 2008 – Best Solo Show Nomination)
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