Originally written for www.phoenixsomerset.org.uk January 2015.
As I reach the top of the stairs I’m greeted by a cheerful soul who introduces herself as Ethel. As she turns to ask if I am an old soldier, the light catches her face and I notice her yellow complexion, a sure sign that Ethel is a ‘canary’. Like the other girls at the munitions factory where she worked, ‘munitionette’ Ethel was slowly being poisoned by the TNT she was exposed to day in, day out.
As I stepped further inside the room I met a rather confused Dottie, whose husband Bill had returned from the war in body but not in mind, the strain showing on her face and in her faltering voice. Nearby, the tired and rather jaded music hall singer, Florrie, told tales of how the war had changed everything and how its end resulted in “the world going mad with relief.”
This was The Little Victory Ball.
The exhibition at Black Swan Arts in Frome combined a display of period artefacts including trench art, souvenirs and photographs, with live, interactive performances from the extremely talented cast. Including just one act from the full performance, the evening would have been absolutely superb if all the show did was give you a glimpse into the world of the women and families who so bravely kept their loved-ones’ memories alive. But, it does so much more than that.
The Little Victory Ball immerses you in the feelings and mixed emotions of the time – offering a sense of relief and inviting you to join the celebration whilst also filling you with a sense of the sadness endured by so many. It is powerful stuff, really putting the ‘story’ in the word ‘history’ and making you think about remembrance in a totally new light. The storytelling is made all the more powerful when you discover that all the words you hear during the performance are authentic – taken from genuine letters and records of the time.
From the thought-provoking artefacts on show, to the rousing sing-along to It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, The Little Victory Ball will leave you entertained, enlightened and thoroughly glad that you went along. Pay them a visit – you won’t be disappointed.
The Little Victory Ball is a travelling First World War museum and theatrical performance, available for events at almost any location including schools, street fairs and festivals. For more information visit www.thelittlevictoryball.com, call 07732 228022 or follow them on Twitter @dottyvictory.