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Ancestral Voices: Diaries 1942-1943 Paperback – 1 Sep 2003
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Ancestral Voices: Diaries, 1942-1943
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The portrait of London during the war, the collapse of country houses and the growth of the National Trust makes a brilliant start for JL-M's sustained portrait of his unusual life. It is funny, poignant, outspoken and deeply personal. Very highly recommended.
Some of the characters are classic eccentrics, finely drawn. Lees-Milne comes across as good company, occasionally honestly bitchy, and gradually includes more and more about hints about his and others' sexuality. Lees-Milne has sprinkles of wit and opinion that make one grateful that he was willing to publish, but the book's strength is also its weakness: what was interestng to him at the time may be lost on us now, and incidental details now glorious nuggets of a forgotten way of life. I could have done with a tenth of the catalogue of country houses but was intrigued to learn what was uppermost in upper-class minds of the day. Surprisingly, many of his acquaintances seemed hardly interested in the war (one might say the same today) while others were vehement haters of Churchill.
However, there could have been so much more. The book was published many years after it was written, and in the introduction the author expresses his regret at expunging much of the gossip he orginally included. I regret it too, for although Ancestral Voices throws an unusual light on the war years, much of it is a roster of meetings with Lords and literati at their stately homes, and many of the names no longer conjure an image. I only hope that the later diaries, which I have not read, redress the balance in favour of gossip. This volume, except as a compendium of grand old homes and snobs of yesteryear, is perhaps best read as a prelude to the many later volumes of diaries.
Ancestral Voices, Southwestern's latest theatre production, is a play set in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The title makes the play sound rather mystical, which it isn't. Its core is a family that has been broken apart when the grandmother decides to live her husband for another man. The story is told from young Eddie's point of view, the grandson.
The story itself is the weakest element. Nothing much happens other than this family is broken apart by adultery and has to deal with it. A broken family is a tragedy, but there's not enough to set this story apart to make it truly rise above the pack.
That's where Southwestern's theatre department truly shines. They take a rather standard story and make it come alive through their casting choices. Each of the five characters had a very distinct personality and the actors brought these out to compensate for the story's weakness. The characters are much more interesting than the story, and Steve Strickler, the director, made sure the casting was dead on.
Ancestral Voices is a reader's theatre. A readers' theatre is combines two different artistic genres, the play and the novel, into a unified performance. Ancestral Voices goes to many places for the stage, so the actors are given their scripts with an explanation of why, and the entire performance is given with them sitting around in chairs talking. Much to the theatre department's credit, this is much more interesting to see than it sounds.
The play calls only for four chairs. The theatre department went much further than this by creating a tiered stage with four chairs on higher levels than the stage. The chairs themselves are based from the period, lending it an historic accuracy which helps you better get into the play.
Another great thing is that before the play began, a group of three performers sang old forties tunes, which was a treat in itself.
While the story itself is rather depressing and not all that striking, the characters and the production itself more than make up for it. You really missed out if you did not get an opportunity to see Ancestral Voices.
Word Count 365
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