Trench Brothers: brighton dome

30 September 2018 | Bethany Reynard

Trench Brothers commemorates the contributions of ethnic minority soldiers during the First World War through music, theatre and puppetry, bringing to life their hopes and fears, their longing for home, their camaraderie, courage and valour.

Trench Brothers at Gayhurst Community School, London, 28 November 2014 © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL

Two large‐scale performances on 17 October 2018 at Brighton Dome will be the culmination of a four‐year project. It will feature professional actors, singers and musicians, jazz and Indian classical musicians, and 250 schoolchildren. The music is by leading jazz artist, educator and broadcaster Julian Joseph and award‐winning theatre, musicals and classical composer Richard Taylor. The libretto is by HMDT Music’s Creative Director Tertia Sefton‐Green. The chosen location for these massed performances is significant; Brighton Dome was used as a hospital for some 2000 injured Indian soldiers.

Dome auditorium as Indian hospital ward, 1915

The production takes as its starting point the complexity of the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) not being permitted to serve in the front line. The narrative incorporates the stories of real‐life soldiers who volunteered to serve the British Empire, including Norman Manley, a black British soldier with the Royal Artillery who was promoted to the rank of Sergeant (a non‐ commissioned officer) but met with such racism he gave up his stripes and joined another regiment. He went on to become the first Prime Minister of Jamaica. We meet Herbert Morris of the BWIR suffering from shell‐shock who was subsequently shot for desertion at the age of 17 and are drawn into the story of Manta Singh, a Sikh soldier who saved the life of his English commanding officer at the Battle of Neuve‐Chapelle, but lost the fight for his own in the Kitchener Hospital in Brighton. Captain Henderson and Singh were comrades in arms, their sons served together in World War Two, and the families remain friends to this day.

Directed by Clare Whistler and Freya Wynn Jones to Neil Irish’s designs, it features children from local primary schools in Brighton, Newhaven, Lewes and Seaford alongside acclaimed jazz vocalist of the year and MOBO nominated Cleveland Watkiss MBE and ‘superb’ (The Times) Anglo‐Indian opera singer Damian Thantrey.

The Trench Brothers education project has visited over 40 schools across the UK since it was launched in 2014. Participating schools receive an artefact handling session, a visit from an actor in the role of a First World War soldier from the Indian Army, and spend a day making a force of Trench Brothers puppets with artists from the Little Angel Theatre. Supporting these visits is the Trench Brothers online Education Zone, offering contextual background information and cross‐curricular resources with an emphasis on ethnic minority First World War Commonwealth forces.

Each participating school researches an individual soldier, and creates a letter they might have written home, based on their findings. This is then workshopped to produce a song. The full‐orchestrated performances in Brighton Dome will include ‘Letter Songs’ by a range of composers, and in different musical styles, including James Redwood, Jenny Gould, Matthew King, Omar Shahryar and Michael Betteridge.

This cross‐curricular approach is the hallmark of HMDT MUSIC’s work. Their unique methodology has evolved over two decades and garnered two RPS Education Awards: for the community opera On London Fields (2004) and a project around the Beijing Olympics Confucius Says (2008). Hear Our Voice (2006) created a response to writings by children who lived through the Holocaust which toured to Germany, Czech Republic and the UK.

Following a tour to Lancashire and a month at National Memorial Arboretum, the interactive Trench Brothers exhibition is being shown at Newhaven Fort, East Sussex, from 4 August – 4 November.

You can learn more about HMDT MUSIC and its wider activities here.