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Telling ideas in story and song

As our Edinburgh run ends we reflect on our tagline - and taking theatre seriously.

The stage is set for Dreams of Peace & Freedom at C Cubed

One of the primary roles of creatives is to try to expand the way the art they make adjusts the thinking of the audience. This can be as subtle as, ‘I never saw it like that before,’ through ‘I never knew that’ to ‘this has changed how I see things’ possibly for ever. The books that we read, the music we listen to, go towards shaping the people we become, and in that sense an artist can have extraordinary power in altering perceptions.

At English Cabaret, the driving ethos behind our work is ‘telling ideas – in story and song’ and our latest production Dreams of Peace & Freedom is a prime example of our work.

The show tells of a series of events that happened immediately after WWII that are all but forgotten now, and is brought to life through first hand accounts by someone who lived through the time and was part of that history. We feel the telling is timely because political events happening now are threatening steps taken to prevent war happening again when it was fresh in our minds are being undermined. As David Maxwell Fyfe says in our show ‘there is a sundial factor to our mentality. People are inclined only to count the sunny hours…’ After 75 years of peace, and as those who fought in world wars die, it is easy to believe these things could never happen again.

Talking to a history teacher at supper the other evening, we were discussing the challenge of bringing history to life when the world has moved on, and everyday living is so different. She was stressing the importance in her own teaching of presenting life years ago in a way that students could empathise with. Describing teaching WWI she talked of photographs and family stories to freshen the feelings of horror at the loss of young life. There is a comforting distance between us and terrible events or ways of living that enable us to put it to one side and feel these things are past and done with. Making the learning of history an emotional journey is one way of finding the relevance of the past.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom is an immersive history, with pictures of the past alongside music to stir the emotions and invite engagement in the subject matter. Audiences have described it as ‘beautiful’ and ‘heart-warming’ and yet because it also chimes chillingly with present political events, others have feared it is not just a story but a ‘polemic’.

Thos Ribbits of MusicalTalk disputed this in an interview with composer Sue Casson last year, when the recorded livestream of the show was first released :

It’s not a piece with a message that you punch into someone, it’s beautifully done.

With performances at the centre of our Magna Carta tour we are aiming to engage audiences with this ‘stimulating piece of history that most people don’t know’ (Helena Kennedy QC) and who knows, by informing them and inspiring them we may just alter perceptions before it’s too late.

Find out more about our Edinburgh run with production photos and audience reaction here.

Discover more about Dreams of Peace & Freedom here.

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