With regard to The First World War, there is a reaction which is now, a century on, deemed appropriate. We know how to behave, to mark our sombre respect, but with 100 years between us and those who lost their lives can we really find a personal connection to those people?
In Soft Wings is the new work from writer Hugh Salmon, who through meticulous research whilst recovering from back surgery, discovered the fascinating and yet somehow normal lives of two lively young rivals from Balliol College, Oxford. Like many young people, Hon. Billy Grenfell (Nikolas Salmon) and Keith Rae (Edward Tidy) become wrapped up in their feud whilst at Oxford and are unable to put their disagreements into perspective. Keith, educated at home in Liverpool and considered a ‘pleb’ by the Etonian crowd, and Billy, an aristocratic boy. Billy is unaware of how incredible his privilege is, as he casually greets the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister in his home. Their different values and goals in life create a rift between them, which within the walls of Balliol becomes magnified, culminating in Keith being talked out of pressing charges against a raging Billy.
The characters within In Soft Wings are a little indistinguishable to begin with, but quickly their personalities come through. We build a connection to these lads, whether they’re old Etonians quoting latin with each other or the young Perkins with his quick temper. Salmon meticulously builds whole lives, characters and aspirations for these men. At the outbreak of the First World War Billy and Keith find themselves fighting on the same side, their rivalry quickly overshadowed by the immense battle ahead of them in the fields of Europe. Ultimately resulting in their deaths, both on the 30th July 1915.
Performed for the first time 100 years exactly from the death of these vibrant and engaging young men, In Soft Wings is a compelling and beautifully touching tale which brings humanity and intimacy to the tragedy of the First World War. An event on such a scale is difficult to comprehend, and the terror, bravery and determination of those in the trenches can be hard to put into perspective. However, Hugh Salmon has expertly negotiated these difficulties and created a work with humanity, spirit and sincerity.
I hope this work receives the attention it deserves, and is seen by many more people. With theatrical royalty such as Sir Tim Rice in the audience last night, this is surely a work destined for great things.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary ticket to this production. All views and opinions are my own.