A letter and a text message, both written from the frontlines of war. They have little else in common, except for the sign-off: “All my love, x”.
It was in early 2014 that performing arts student Lilac Yosiphon stumbled across the two messages in a newspaper commemorating the centenary of the First World War.
“The newspapers were full of postcards and letters from soldiers writing home, and it struck me that these two were written at different times, different places and in different languages, but both said exactly the same thing,” she says.
Thousands more letters just like it form the basis of Lilac’s new show, One Last Thing (For Now) making its world premiere at the Red Lion Theatre this week. Two years in the making, the play is a cross-cultural look at the language of love and war, interweaving narratives from the First World War in Northern England, the Second World War in France and Germany, the civil war in Colombia, and stories from contemporary Britain and Israel.
It is a subject close to home for the Israeli-born actor and director, who, at the time of the centenary, was fast approaching the end of her student visa and desperate for an opportunity to stay in the country.
“A mentor said to me that the only way I would be able to stay was to create something so brilliant and meaningful that they would have to keep me,” she says. “I started thinking: ‘What’s something I can address that will resonate with a lot of people, connect them?’”
“By bringing out various cultures’ shared experiences, I want to create a sense of unity that can transcend cultural gaps and language barriers and engage in a truthful open dialogue.” Lilac assembled a small multicultural group of actor friends that was to form the Althea Theatre Company.
Together, they began sifting through thousands of pieces of correspondence between soldiers away at war and their loved ones back home, piecing together stories and developing characters based on real experiences.
One is an officer who can’t bring himself to tell a woman that her husband died, instead writing her love letters pretending to be him. Another is a soldier writing his last letter to a former teacher who refused to join the army. At the centre of the narrative is a story of a woman giving up her own limbs to make contact with her husband, a recent amputee, in the trenches a hundred years ago.
“It was a real process of looking these incredibly moving declarations of love and descriptions of warfare to find the common threads that were the most thought provoking,” Lilac says.
“One of the most striking similarities we identified was how visible the injuries at the warfront are, and how the emotional injuries of those at home are hidden.”
At the heart of the play is Lilac’s aim to address broader injuries around cultural and political conflicts, violence and conscientious objection and get them out in the open.
“I hope that it will encourage our audience to engage in these types of conversations from a personal perspective, rather feeling as through they have to speak on behalf of any social, political or ethnic groups they might fall within. “I hope everybody feels like their story is represented.”
One Last Thing (For Now) is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 7-25 March.