My collegue Mr. Campbell asks ‘Why the great War?’ My answer: Why not? Holland may have remained neutral terrirtory in this conflict but the physchological and physical effects of the war had great impact far beyond borders. I see no reason to criticize Hotel Modern for their choice of material.
In fact, the Great War as an object of respresentation and as part of cultural memory and as an event that still resonates and still figures largely in Europe is of little surprise. The Great War was and still is a large part of the European High School curriculum. I grew up in England and vividly remember these lessons. I remember being struck by the power of the first world war poets in my English literature class, our endless visits to the Imperial War Museum’s WWI trench displays (we went several times in history class) and every year on the 11th day on the 11th month we were attacked by poppy selling kids on Armistice Day (1918). Poppies were the symbol of the day to remember the dead of WW I and commemorate the end of the war (on the 11th hr of the 11th day of the 11th month…blah..blah )as these flowers were the first to bloom in the war ravaged terrain. As per Mr. Campbell’s experience, these texts were handed to me by my 6th form tutor and they had a siesmic effect on my young, pubescent mind. In particular I became very attached to the work of Wilfred Owen (Dulce Et Decorum Est) and Issac Rosenberg (Dead Man’s Dump). And they still have an effect on me and my approach to history. In fact I will venture that WWI set into motion events that are still spinning themselves out and impacting us today. Following the war, the League of Nations sliced and diced what remained of the Austro-Hungarian Empire/the Ottoman Empire putting the winners in charge of rearranged territories into newly minted countries like Palestine, Iraq etc..and yes, I think those resonances continue on today.
But is that what drove our friends Hotel Modern? I think not. I found it interesting to discover from one of the performers after the show on Saturday that the makers were interested primarily in the impact of war on the landscape. Am I being literal or is environmentalism a whole new way to , to look at old WWI topic? Certainly images like the striking pile of dead and decaying bodies at the end underscored this concept but… really… REALLY? Did anyone else understand this piece as a green meditation on war? Not me. The more I think about it the more I do not see it. The camera’s point of view, the performers point of view, all seemed to dwell on the individual soldier’s experiences and the pointless waste of human life. And this I agree with Mr. Campbell is not a new take on WWI events, I grant you.
However, even with these inconsistencies I found the performance interesting and resonant. As I said, I will never tire of this topic I’m a bit geeky about it. And like my other collegue, Mr Kelley-Pegg, I also enjoyed the skill and inventiveness of the performers finding, dare I say, pleasure in their restraint and handling of the topic overall. Is that a bad thing ? To find pleasure in such difficult, ugly subject matter? I will admit that part of my pleasure came from watching the ingenious way the events unfurled before me.
My vote goes to Hotel Modern as the overall winner of the 2010 crop o’ Out There performances.