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My Grandfather's Great War


"The most affecting show in town is a simple, honest tribute by one man to his grandfather. The actor Cameron Stewart has, with the assistance of adaptor/director David Benson, brought the First World War diaries of Captain Alexander Stewart to the stage. When Stewart steps into "character" as his stoical, decent, dependable - and, yes, heroic - grandfather, the piece brings home the mud, terror and physical agony of the Western Front with a visceral urgency that sets your heart racing." Daily Telegraph

"Cameron Stewart's grandfather, Captain Alexander Stewart, was on the front line in the Somme and Passendale. During his service he kept a diary. Now, 90 years later, these written memories are the source for a warm and touching one-man show. Stewart takes on the mantle of acting out his grandfather's words as he gallantly fights for King and country, withstanding the horrors of trench warfare. Although Stewart is convincing as he movingly reenacts passages from the diary, it is when he offers his own insight and thoughts that the show excels. Stewart's dilemma is that, evidently, he has an immense admiration for his grandfather and his actions, yet he abhors warfare. This brings him to contemplate the legacy of the 'Great' War. An accessible show that is informative, entertaining, and poignant." **** Edinburgh Evening News

"Based on his grandfather Alexander's memoirs, Cameron Stewart's absorbing one-man show vividly evokes the horror and the excitement of life on the front line in World War I. Indeed, his re-enactments of the Somme are so effective you can almost see the blasted landscape littered with corpses and hear the doomed cries of men drowning in mud. While most of his fellow soldiers were killed, Alexander survived the war despite taking part in three major offensives. On one mission he even charged into enemy trenches and single-handedly captured a German machine gun post, a thrilling episode which Stewart recreates with tremendous energy. What is most shocking about the show is not the graphic violence but the revelation that Alexander and thousands like him knew exactly what they were letting themselves in for when they signed up, and were prepared to face almost certain death for king and country. Stewart ponders whether he would have done the same and questions whether he could ever live up to the memory of his grandfather. In the early 20th century, going to war was a straightforward way of proving your masculinity, but these days the issue is obscured in moral confusion. Although a personal tribute to his grandfather, My Grandfather's Great War also offers a poignant meditation on the nature of humanity and war." **** Metro

"Historians will tell you what we know of the past comes largely from lucky finds; Cameron Stewart's re-discovery of his grandfather's diaries from the First World War and his publication of them in "real time" on the web and on BBC Radio 4 in the Today programme have made an invaluable contribution to people's understanding of that conflict and the motives of those who fought in it. No great surprise, then, to find Baby Belly 1 a nearly full house for Stewart's presentation of Captain Stewart and his experiences. Cameron Stewart is a fine actor with an engaging personal presence; his ability to breathe life into words written almost a century ago is considerable, and his engagement with his audience equally so. What comes across strongly is the phlegmatic understated tenacity of those who quite clearly wished they could be somewhere else, but (mostly) saw it as their duty to carry on, obey orders and hope to hell they didn't get shot, or if they did, that it would be a non-fatal "blighty one" which would literally take them out of the firing line. In Cameron Stewart's shrewd hands, his grandfather emerges as an essentially sympathetic character caught up, as so many others were, in a war neither of their making or choice, but in which they felt they had no alternative but "do their bit" and hope, without great expectation, to remain alive. Every so often the Fringe throws up something unexpectedly special, and My Grandfather's Great War is among these. Strewn amid the tales of being trapped armpit high in mud and rats licking "Brilliantine" from Captain Stewart's hair, of horrific attacks and horrendous casualties, the humanity of Cameron Stewart's grandfather and the men he served with shine through. Their heroism is as much that of the survivor as the soldier, their hopes and dreams simple as pleasures taken among family and friends. To regard the "lost generations" as naive or ludicrously optimistic is to ignore voices as shrewd and aware as Captain Stewart's." *****

“Generally speaking, I find the longer a man has been in the army, the less intelligent he is.” So writes Captain Alexander Stewart in his diaries, a man who served on the Somme’s frontline for two years during the First World War and, despite all the odds, survived to tell the tale. Or rather, write about it at a later date. As his grandson, actor Cameron Stewart, points out, Captain Stewart never spoke about his experiences. Instead he poured his recollections into a set of diaries, entitled A Very Unimportant Officer, which inspired this powerful one-man show. This is no dry recitation of journal entries or tedious history lesson. Rather, it is an incredibly moving depiction of that terrible war. Much of the credit must go to Captain Stewart himself for his candour, his literary skill and his grim humour. His grandson Cameron is a very able performer, relaxed and spirited as occasion demands. His confidence and affable demeanour encourage the audience to follow his every word, while his portrait of his grandfather during the war, resiliently suffering all the iniquities of trench warfare, is excellent. The cohesive sound and light design creates a broad landscape, and allows for moments that are quite terrifying. The occasional projected photographs of soldiers bring a great sense of loss for those who died so wantonly. Stewart is justifiably proud of his grandfather, a recipient of the Military Cross and a man of astounding bravery. As Stewart points out, only one man who served then now remains alive – Harry Patch, aged 110. The memory of the conflict is fading already but its effects still reverberate down to us today, making this production essential viewing." The Stage

Diaries publication coverage

"Ninety years ago my grandfather wrote a very personal and graphic account of his time on the Somme in the Great War. He typed three copies and called it 'The Experiences of a Very Unimportant Officer in France and Flanders during 1916 - 1917.' Until now it has only been read by one or two members of my family and close friends. But now, as his grandson, I would like to share this amazing piece of personal history of his time in the trenches as an officer serving with the Scottish regiment The Cameronians. This account brings to life the reality and horror of what happened to him in those war-torn fields. I hope you will find it equally fascinating." (Jaime) Cameron Stewart

"Capt Alexander Stewart's handwritten diary describes the grim reality of the Somme and other battles with a wry sense of humour similar to Capt Edmund Blackadder in the famous BBC comedy." Daily Telegraph

"His recollections are punctuated with a dry humour that one can only admire. But in a typically moving passage, he describes how each of his men clambered out of the trenches into no man's land, without the 'sound of drum, pipes or trumpet to encourage him...slowly moving across an open space with a certain knowledge that he would be killed or wounded.' No fanfare, the prospect of serious danger: reading this portrayal of bravery reminds me very much of visiting our troops in conflicts today." David Cameron MP

Performed by Cameron Stewart - Directed and adapted by David Benson
Sound by Tom Lishman - Lighting by Phil Spencer Hunter
Produced by James Seabright
© James Seabright 2008 - All Rights Reserved