War Girls: Women Poets of the First World War
Ruth Sillers’ moving performance of women’s poetry written in the First World War has been touring the country for the last four years, and as the actress considers moving on to new projects there may be only a very select number of opportunities remaining to see and hear her show performed live.
The one hour show War Girls was inspired by the anthology Scars Upon My Heart, the background to which Sillers spent over a year researching at Edinburgh Napier University, part of which is the former psychiatric hospital Craiglockhart which, since 2005, houses a War Poets Collection. Craiglockhart is where Wifred Owen met and was heavily influenced by Siegfried Sassoon who himself had been declared insane after refusing to return to military service.
The performance of War Girls includes poetry from famous and not-so-famous women poets of the time, and is interspersed with entertaining letters and anecdotes about such war-time personalities as the theatre impresario Lilian Baylis. Sillers adopts a variety of accents and styles for each different poem to engage her audience, and told me “Madeline Ida Bedford's Munition Wages and Aelfrida Tillyard's delightful Invitation au Festin on the perils of rationing are usually some of the audience’s favourite pieces in performance.”
I asked her if the audience reacted positively to the humour in what is such a poignant subject: “War Girls is a mixture of very moving accounts interspersed with some lighter pieces” Sillers says, “even in the darkest hours of war, it seems a very British trait that we still find a kind of black humour which helps us to endure the horror and I think it's important to reflect that in our programme.”
War Girls has taken Ruth Sillers all over the country for the last four years and she has only a couple of planned performances left, on 16th July at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution and in October at the Ludlow Arts Centre. If you are able to attend it is well worth checking out her hugely enjoyable performance, or you can buy the CD or download at publishers website CrimsonCats.