A Day to Remember

I was in two minds over A Day To Remember. On the one hand, I don't do this sort of event: I really don't. And as each year I find myself subject to demands to conform to some new level of exhibitionist poppy-wearing by a minority whose antics are, I suspect, an embarrassment to the great majority, so my reservations grow.

Political point? No: a commentary on the culture within which Remembrance takes place, an issue to be discussed, and a concern that like other issues that have lately divided the country, those divisions fall very much according to age.

As a journalist and social media commentator, much of my output is engaged with debates that affect people aged 30 and under: I see the divide; and it worries me that it is there.

So: the positives. A Day To Remember is based around a poem and a project created by Toby Thompson, who first broke onto the scene aged 16 (now 24). Since then, he has won a strong of accolades, including, most recently, the Pleasance Indie Award for Best Theatre & Family Show at Edinburgh in August 2018.

He has also been commissioned to write and perform for the Royal Shakespeare Company a number of times, showing his work at venues as diverse as the Swan in Stratford, the House Of Lords and Camden Roundhouse. Toby is an accomplished all-rounder. His roots lie in hip-hop and those show through, as they did on Saturday at the Broadway Theatre. But he has moved beyond into a broader eclecticism that suits his lyrical ambitions.

He is a strong performer and, he reveals elsewhere, he has too, ambitions as a pianist. Oh to be so young, so talented.

It is his words, his concept at the centre of this performance, which tells the story of the Battle of Aubers Ridge, which took place in 1915 from the perspective of those who took part as well as those who they left behind. It is particularly poignant, in that it is based on archive material explored by Toby when he was asked to expand on his initial work on this subject as part of Northampton’s commemoration events in 2015.

And this is the sort of event that we need. Because – pace where I started – there is an absolute need to bridge the age divide: to bring a younger generation into some understanding of why commemoration takes place. And in Toby, it seems, that generation has found voice. Certainly, I found the combination of his words and performance deeply affecting.

To this was added local flavour, in the form of Letchworth's very own City Chorus, who worked closely with Toby to weave his words into the music of The Armed Man by Sir Karl Jenkins. Also known as A Mass for Peace, this work – in essence anti-war - was commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum for the Millennium celebrations, to mark the museum's move from London to Leeds, and was dedicated to victims of the Kosovo crisis.

As performances go, creds to producer Anna W White without whose dedication this would never have happened. And it was quality performance.

Thumbs up too to local business: solicitors BBW and builders Aldenham Residential who provided support to the production.

If I have a quibble – and perhaps I do – it is that the two halves tugged in different directions. Toby is a poet whose words resonate across generations: but his voice is that of a younger generation and, if understanding is to pass onward in the years to come, voices such as his are sorely needed.

Whereas the Armed Man/Mass for Peace returns his work once more to a culture that is formal, less accessible. And, looking around the auditorium, my sense was that this was reflected in the age of those who attended. A few younger faces. But few and far between.

I don't know what a Remembrance event that crossed the age divide would look like: but this did not do that.

It was done well: very well done. But as so many such events, it continues to be limited by the culture within which it locates itself.