After two and a half years of spearheading a campaign to bring the forgotten WW1 poet, Charles Hamilton Sorley, home to Scotland, a special commemorative event was held at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, at the start of October. The occasion was hosted by the play’s producer, Bréon Rydell, and associate producer, the poet, Michael Pedersen, one of the founders of Neu! Reekie!
A packed hall listened attentively as Bréon, gave an eloquent account of the background to the play, It is Easy to be Dead, which Bréon had produced in London. The play was written by his friend and fellow Scot, Neil McPherson, the Artistic Director of the Finborough Theatre.
Bréon spoke with passion about the literary legacy of Sorley, and how important it was that this was both recognised and protected, not least in his native Scotland.
The title of the play is taken from Sorley’s last poem, written shortly before he was tragically killed in action in Northern France in 1915, aged 20 years, and discovered after his death in his military kit. In this poem, he expresses his feelings about the stark reality of death and the futility of weeping for the fallen soldiers. As he explains, ‘These ghosts are but shadows of the men they once were; our tears and words mean nothing to them.’
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Poets like John Masefield, called Sorley ‘potentially the greatest poet lost to us in that war’, and Robert Graves thought him ‘one of the three poets of importance killed in the war whose death was a major loss’.
This special celebration in the Scottish Poetry Library was an inspiring evening, combining theatre, poetry and music.
Bréon and Michael recited poems from the play, and some of their own work, including Bréon’s ‘The Sentinels’ which has just been published in photojournalist Jimmy Nelson’s evocative new book, Homage to Humanity. To accompany the work of Charles Hamilton Sorley, Michael read a piece from his critically acclaimed collection Oyster and a poem published in Neu! Reekie!’s #UntitledOne anthology from a more recently lost poet: Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit.
Alex Knox, who played Charles Hamilton Sorley in the London performances of It is Easy to be Dead, read extracts from the play, and gave insight into how Sorley’s poems and letters had shaped his performance.
As an artistic offering to the poet and a coruscating conclusion to the night, three songs from one of Scotland’s most accomplished songwriters, Rachel Sermanni. Rachel left the audience rapt and lightened, reflecting on how much Sorley had accomplished in his small handful of prolific years.
It is Easy to be Dead will be performed at the Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th November, and at Oran Mor, Glasgow, on Sunday 11th – Wednesday 14th November.
Ticket Links Glasgow: https://www.ticketweb.uk/search?q=It+is+easy+to+be+dead
Ticket Links Aberdeen: https://www.aberdeenperformingarts.com/whats-on/drama/it-is-easy-to-be-dead/1654