In the early 2000s a full-length version of “Author, Composer, Soldier-of-a-sort” was performed at music festivals throughout the country and had sell out performances at the Purcell Room, South Bank. Celebrating the intriguing friendship between Ivor Gurney the greatest British poet/composer known the ‘English Schubert’ and Marion Scott, a champion of women musicians, the production featured two actors and two musicians, with live music from tenor and piano.
For the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in 2018, Jan Carey re-wrote the play as a solo performance telling the extraordinary, gritty, tragic and moving story of Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott; featuring Jan Carey as Marion Scott, directed by Michael McCaffery and illustrated by the recordings of Ian Partridge, tenor and Jennifer Partridge, piano. After the run at The Pleasance in Edinburgh, she performed it on Remembrance Sunday at the Stroud Book Festival, Gurney’s own country, the inspiration for his work.
Marion Scott was a significant force in reshaping women’s roles in classical music, and in promoting and championing the work of several generations of British composers and musicians. Her pioneering work as a music critic and musicologist encouraged other women to work in fields previously closed to them. It was to Scott that Gurney sent his music and poetry from the trenches with war raging around him and she was the instigator of their performance and of the publication of his first book of poetry in 1917 ‘Severn and Somme’, born of his passion and inspiration – the Severn valley. Scott came from a wealthy intellectual family. Her American mother was born in St Petersburg and her father an eminent lawyer. She trained at the Royal College of Music as a violinist and as a writer and lecturer was held in high esteem by her fellow musicians. She was Founder and President of the Society of Women Musicians and one of the first women music critics. She was surrounded by a wide circle of colleagues and friends of all ages until her death.
Ivor Gurney was born into a relatively poor family. He was a pupil at Gloucester Cathedral School and won a composition scholarship to the Royal College of Music. In 1915 he volunteered and joined the 2nd/5th Gloucesters as a private soldier and was gassed in the Passchendale offensive and sent home, spending a year in various hospitals where his mental condition began to deteriorate. In 1919 he returned to the Royal College of Music but in 1922, was sent to a mental hospital in Gloucester, and from there, was transferred to the City of London Mental Hospital where he died in 1937.
Jan Carey trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In the West End: Spring and Port Wine, The Cherry Orchard, Pygmalion. Outside London theatres include: Sheffield, Canterbury, Birmingham, the Citizens Glasgow and the Abbey Theatre Dublin. Her extensive television appearances range from I Claudius to Downton Abbey. Latest TV is Killing Eve, to be shown. “Author, Composer, Soldier-of-a-sort”, is her first venture into writing/compiling.
Michael McCaffery has directed internationally for more than thirty years working in opera and theatre in some of the world’s leading centres. He also is a writer, translator, broadcaster and designer and collaborates regularly with training and performance programmes in major universities and conservatoires.
Billed as a celebration of the friendship between the First World War poet and composer, Ivor Gurney, and musician and pioneering music critic Marion Scott, this one-woman show is written and performed by Jan Carey. The story is a very moving one – the two meet at the Royal College of Music, become close both professionally and personally, and Gurney enlists in the 1st World War effort. He continues to write poetry and music, influenced both by what he witnesses in the trenches and remembers from his native Gloucestershire, and sends them to Scott, but is later gassed and discharged. On returning to his homeland his health and sanity deteriorate.
Carey is a most engaging performer who plays both roles, mostly standing for the soft cadences of Gurney’s Gloucestershire accent and seated for Scott’s more clipped tones. She conveys the essence of both characters effectively – Scott is a pioneering music critic who breaks into a male-dominated world, demanding blind auditions for women perfomers, Gurney a nature-loving dreamer, unteachable, and while his look may be one of force he is thoroughly ill-suited to the military career he embarks upon, hence the last bit of the title. Ironically, Gurney felt that fighting at the front might strengthen in him any mental weaknesses, whilst the very opposite proves to be the case.
Carey jumps seamlessly between the two roles, and the bond and admiration between the characters is plain to see. A one-person show risks being a little static by its very nature, and there is little by way of dramatic action or setting, but the text – narrative, imagined dialogue, interior monologue, diary-style entries – is varied and well-written. There are some arresting images, such as Gurney’s emaciated body making his uniform seem like a flag on a pole, and the thin rain weeping at dawn. The heart-strings are not torn at in melodramatic fashion, the writing not sensationalised, yet one feels tremendous sympathy for the aging woman who lost her fiancé to the war, to the suffering ex-soldier who has been reduced to a penniless vagrant singing for his supper, going through life without an anchor. The simple description of Scott’s tears on leaving Gurney in hospital, and on seeing the broken body of a blind young soldier are very moving and reflect the pointless horror of war.
Gurney is described as the English Schubert, a bold claim (and one which his later teacher Vaughan- Williams might have been interested to hear) but I enjoyed the recordings of Ian Partridge (tenor) accompanied by Jennifer Partridge on piano and could have listened to them a lot more. The play is directed by Michael McCaffery and produced by Hint of Lime Productions.
I recommend this show to you
Ivor B. Gurney was born in 1890 and joined the Royal College of Music in 1911. Like his fellow Gloucestershire-native, Laurie Lee, Gurney’s lack of wealth didn’t prohibit him leaving a tender and remarkable artistic legacy.
Author, Composer, Soldier-of-a-Sort by Jan Carey concentrates on the long-running friendship between Gurney and Marion M. Scott, a composer, musicologist and critic.
In one way, this story seems like the archetypical ‘unlikely friendship’. But they actually shared a considerable amount in common, not least in defying assumptions (Gurney as a lower-class man and Scott as a woman) in translating their love of music into a career.
Carey performs both roles with measured sophistication. One of many masterstrokes lies in performing Gurney’s Gloucester accent as soft and bubbling – like stream water over pebbles – not in the harsh, comedy West Country way most people on stage seem to opt for.
Interspersed with passages of Gurney’s music, the monologue is a delicate and very moving piece of storytelling. In one painfully beautiful scene, Gurney – now confined to a London institution post- WWI – is visited by Helen Thomas, wife of the poet Edward Thomas. Together, they trace the lanes of Gloucestershire on an Ordnance Survey Map: it’s heart-breaking.