by Neil McPherson. Based on the poetry, letters and brief life of Charles Hamilton Sorley.
15 June – 9 July 2016
“And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.”
The world premiere
Subsequently transferred to Trafalgar Studios from 9 November-3 December 2016
★★★★★ The Guardian
★★★★★ Broadway World
★★★★★ London Pub Theatres
★★★★★ The Upcoming
★★★★★ Carn’s Theatre Passion
★★★★ and Pick of The Week, The Sunday Times
★★★★ The Times
★★★★ Time Out
★★★★ The Jewish Chronicle
★★★★ Musical Theatre Review
★★★★ London Theatre 1
★★★★ Ginger Wig and Strolling Man
Nominated for an Olivier Award
Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre
Nominated for a MyTheatreAward
Best Original Work
Nominated for 7 OffWestEnd Awards:-
Best Male Performance
Best Male Performance in a Supporting Role
Best New Play
Best Lighting Designer
Best Sound Designer
Best Set Designer
Nominated for four Broadway World UK Awards
Best Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Best Direction of a New Production of a Play
Best New London Fringe Production
Best New Play
Commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, the world premiere of It Is Easy To Be Dead by award-winning playwright Neil McPherson.
Born in Aberdeen, Charles Sorley was studying in Germany when the First World War broke out and was briefly imprisoned as an enemy alien. He was one of the first to join the army in 1914.
Killed in action a year later at the age of 20, his poems are among the most ambivalent , profound and moving war poetry ever written.
It Is Easy To Be Dead tells the story of Sorley’s brief life through his work and music and songs from some of the greatest composers of the period including George Butterworth, Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna, Ivor Gurney, John Ireland, Rudi Stephan and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Unique among the poets of the First World War, Sorley’s life and work fits chronologically into the patriotic idealism of such writers as Julian Grenfell and Rupert Brooke (whom Sorley criticised for his “sentimental attitude”). Perhaps because of his time in Germany before the war, Sorley perceived the truth of the war long before his fellow writers, and anticipated the grim disillusionment of later poets such as Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon.
The cast includes Jenny Lee (West End, Royal Court Theatre, The Young Vic, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh), Tom Marshall (National Theatre, West End, Royal Court Theatre, Menier Chocolate Factory) and two new discoveries – actor Alexander Knox as Charles Sorley, and acclaimed young tenor Hugh Benson.
POETS ON CHARLES SORLEY
"Potentially the greatest poet lost to us in that war...had Sorley lived, he might have become our greatest dramatist since Shakespeare" – John Masefield.
"One of the three poets of importance killed during the war [alongside Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg]." – Robert Graves.
"Probably the most clear-sighted English poet killed in the war." – Robert Nichols.
"Among the most remarkable of...the boy-poets killed in the war." – John Middleton Murry
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Playwright Neil McPherson is Artistic Director of the Finborough Theatre. His first play I Wish to Die Singing – Voices From The Armenian Genocide, commemorating the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, was presented at the Finborough Theatre in 2015, and an excerpt was also performed concurrently in Los Angeles. The script is published by Oberon Books. I Wish to Die Singing won the Best Play Award 2015 in the UK Studio Theatre Awards.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Director Max Key returns to the Finborough Theatre following the sell-out world premiere of Year 10 which won the Time Out Critics' Choice Award and transferred to BAC, prior to a European tour. He trained on the National Theatre Directors' Course and works in theatre, film and opera. Theatre includes Up the Royal Borough and Lullaby Burn (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith), Mariana Pineda, The Turn of the Screw and The Rape of Lucretia (Arcola Theatre), Vote By Ballot and NT Connections (National Theatre), Macbeth (Indian Tour) and Wilde Tales (Southwark Playhouse). Assistant Direction includes assisting Peter Gill on The Voysey Inheritance (National Theatre), Sean Holmes on Treasure Island (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Tony Harrison on Fram (National Theatre) and Francesca Zambello on La Bohème (Royal Albert Hall). Film includes Preservation starring Saskia Reeves for Palm Springs International Film Festival and BAFTA.
Max has taught and directed extensively at leading London drama schools including LAMDA and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. His productions for drama schools include Cymbeline, The Way of the World, Summerfolk, August: Osage County and Jerusalem. Most recently, Max has revived Tim Albery's production of The Flying Dutchman (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) and was Associate Director for Peter Gill on As Good A Time As Any (The Print Room).
THE GREAT WAR 100 SERIES
THEGREATWAR100 series is a new occasional series of works about – or written during – the Great War to be presented by the Finborough Theatre from 2014 to 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
THE PRESS ON IT IS EASY TO BE DEAD
“A century on, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ve heard enough from the trenches. This artful evening reminds us that there is always more to learn, to be appalled by and, yes, dazzled by too.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“A fitting and poignant tribute.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out
“A sharp reminder of the fragility of peace and the terrible consequences of taking that state for granted.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World
“I must admit I’d never heard of Charles Sorley before watching this play, but having now discovered his haunting poetry, it’s difficult not to be moved by its refreshing, if brutal, honesty. There’s nothing sentimental or patriotic about his writing.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion
“A poignant moving narrative of one man’s war. What Charles Sorley achieved in his short life should remain an inspiration to us all. Not to be missed.” TheSpyintheStalls.com
“This beautiful tribute to the First World War poet Charles Sorley took me by surprise. After all, I had — I’ll confess — never heard of Sorley, a poet celebrated by his peers if not by a huge wider public, who died aged 20 in 1915 in the Battle of Loos. And the prospect of a show made up of his letters and poems, with British and German songs from the period and dramatisations of his stiff Scottish parents’ reactions to his death . . . it sounded more National Trust than National Theatre. Yet It is Easy to be Dead turns out to be a tender, absorbing, eye-opening account of both an awful conflict and a great lost talent.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“Hugely worthwhile piece, moving yet never mawkish, pertinent for its quiet reminder of the fragility of life, civilisation and peace.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times
“A sobering, moving, magnificent portrait of a life unfinished.” Jessica Handscomb, A Younger Theatre
“Charles Sorley is not a First World War poet as familiar as Wilfred Owen or Rupert Brooke, whose works are ingrained on the national consciousness. But on the evidence of Neil McPherson’s fascinating dramatisation of his short life, he merits no less attention.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out
“A haunting tribute to a remarkable forgotten war poet” Claire Allfree, The Daily Telegraph
“Quietly devastating.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph
“Well crafted, well staged, well acted.” Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail
“Powerful musical moments.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“Copious haunting songs.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph
“A fascinating insight into one of the Great War’s lesser known, yet certainly important, writers.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World
“Marked by an outstanding central performance and infused with audio-visual delights, It is Easy to Be Dead is a moving testament and a must-see during its limited run.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World
“The end of Act Two had me in tears and left me tremendously moved.” Douglas Mayo, BritishTheatre.com
“A portrait of Charles Hamilton Sorley, whose highly intelligent, optimistic young life and undoubted literary talent.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph
“McPherson shows Sorley to be a young man both of his time and enticingly modern in his lack of sentimentality and his conversational tone.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“Neil McPherson’s thoughtful play…conveys both the young man’s enthusiastic energy and the intensity of his parents’ loss.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times
“Beautifully written…McPherson's perfectly judged script.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World
“The cast are tremendous.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World
“Alexander Knox is stunning as Sorley, giving him the bonhomie of a young thing, the clear-sightedness of an old soul.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“Alexander Knox gives a brilliant performance.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion
“Alexander Knox’s inquisitively engaging Charlie.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times
“This is Alexander Knox's play. His Charlie is the son every parent wants, the brother every sister wants, the friend every young man wants and, had he got to Oxford, the boyfriend every undergraduate wants.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World
“An excellent central performance: Alexander Knox honours Sorley with a deeply sympathetic portrayal, finely balancing passion and poise.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out
“Sorley’s wit and drive are captured perfectly by the young actor Alexander Knox, a veritable whirlwind around the stage.” TheSpyintheStalls.com
“Whether generating uneasy sexual heat with his German hostess (Elizabeth Rossiter, also the pianist) or shouting an account of battle against a barrage of sound effects— Knox has a radiant ease about him.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“Sorley, played by Alexander Knox, was not a sentimentalist, and wrote of the war with nothing but frank disfavour. Knox brings this to life with the playful and boyish demeanour in which he recites Sorley’s letters, and captures Sorley’s brightness brilliantly.” Jessica Handscomb, A Younger Theatre
“Lively, animated, emotional, real, Knox takes the writings of Sorley and brings them wondrously to live with a zeal that is astounding… A staggering performance…full of humour, pathos and truth” Douglas Mayo, BritishTheatre.com
“Alexander Knox in a fine central performance. Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail
“Alexander Knox is terrific as Sorley, infusing his character with wit and effervescing with intelligence while delivering the lines of his poems with deft and moving sincerity.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World
“In Alexander Knox’s likeable, bright-eyed performance you get a palpable, painful inkling of what was lost.” Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph
“Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee as his parents are perfect.” TheSpyintheStalls.com
“Heartbreaking scenes as his parents, played by Jenny Lee and Tom Marshall.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion
“Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee make wholly believable parents: he the epitome of the Calvanist tradition, stiff upper lip maintained - until he cracks; she the grieving mother, emotions just about held in check, but unable to cope with the void in her life.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World
“As Sorley’s parents, Tom Marshall and Jenny Lee are everything you could want. Proud, prudent, emotive, they play these parts truthfully, making the loss of their son all the more moving.” Douglas Mayo, BritishTheatre.com
“Hugh Benson sings beautifully.” Jessica Handscomb, A Younger Theatre
“Hugh Benson, wonderful.” Patricia Nicol, The Sunday Times
“Hugh Benson, his operatic voice alternately strident and doleful, as poems are put to music and old favourites sung, adds a layer of poignancy to a play hardly short in the first place.” Gary Naylor, Broadway World
“Benson has a truly amazing and powerful voice, yet is expressive and mesmerising.” TheSpyintheStalls.com
“Hugh Benson also deserves mention for his outstanding vocals.” Jordan Morrissey, My Entertainment World
“Music beautifully performed by singer Hugh Benson and pianist Elizabeth Rossiter.” Liz Dyer, Carn’s Theatre Passion
“The music, sung exquisitely by Hugh Benson and accompanied on piano by Elizabeth Rossiter, hauntingly underscores Sorley's conviction in the beauty of German culture.” Claire Allfree, The Daily Telegraph
“Elizabeth Rossiter’s deft music direction, accompanied by Hugh Benson’s singing, appropriately combines British and German songs.” Theo Bosanquet, Time Out
“The director, Max Key, keeps the atmosphere vivid throughout.” Dominic Maxwell, The Times
“Walking out onto Whitehall mid-evening on Remembrance Day, and seeing veterans with their medals walking up towards Trafalgar Square, was a final devastating blow that left Sorley in my mind for most of the weekend. I must admit to spending time on the weekend finding more of Sorley’s work to read.” Douglas Mayo, BritishTheatre.com
THE PRESS ON I WISH TO DIE SINGING AT THE FINBOROUGH
“90 minutes of continuously compelling theatre.” Howard Loxton, British Theatre Guide
“Powerful...a searing account of the Armenian genocide....It movingly achieves what it sets out to do.” Michael Billington, The Guardian
“Moving and shocking... There is no questioning its power and importance.” Gerald Berkowitz, TheatreGuideLondon
“A well-rounded and extremely powerful account of what took place” Mayer Wakefield, Morning Star
“This sobering piece of documentary theatre...” There Ought To Be Clowns
“The play’s value is undeniable...A true example of activist theatre.” Chelsey Pippin, Everything Theatre
“Simple, moving and powerful...Using well-researched testimonies, letters, poems, reports and choruses of facts...the documentary focuses on the cases of a handful of individuals, humanising the abstract experiences of a whole people... The evening ends on a justifiable note of outrage. You leave the theatre with a soul full of anger.” Aleks Sierz, The Stage.
“Neil McPherson employs documentary drama, and to shocking effect... The convention of delivering verbatim texts proves extraordinarily powerful.” Judi Herman, Jewish Renaissance
Studied Music at King's College London and was a member of the King's College Chapel Choir including performances of Bach's St. John Passion and B Minor Mass and tours to Italy, France and Russia, and subsequently trained at the Royal Academy of Music.
Opera includes Don Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro, Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia and Scarammucio in Ariadne auf Naxos (Royal Academy of Music). Other roles include Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tamino in The Magic Flute, Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance and Don Curzio in The Marriage of Figaro. He has also worked as a chorus member for Royal Academy Opera, Wonslow Opera and Hampstead Garden Opera.
As a concert singer, Hugh has performed as Evangelist in Handel's Messiah with St. Neot’s Choral Society and the Waverley Singers; performed as a soloist with many other groups including Penzance Choral Society and St. John’s, Wimbledon Choir; and has given recitals at St. Stephen's, Walbrook, and St Paul's, Covent Garden – the Actors Church. He is currently Tenor of the choir of St. Pancras Parish Church, London. Forthcoming concerts include Ständchen with Anne Murray (Wigmore Hall) and Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music with Scherzo Ensemble ( King’s College London).
Trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama as a singer and subsequently as an actor, and was awarded the Ben Travers’ Scholarship.
Theatre includes The Silver Sword (UK Tour) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Barbican Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra). Roles in training at Guildhall include Orsino inTwelfth Night, Fred Graham in Kiss Me Kate, Jenkins in South Downs, Peter in Flare Path, Creon in Oedipus, Ronald Gurney in Unknown Doors, Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls and Duke Frederick in As You Like It.
Opera includes The Cunning Little Vixen (Edinburgh Studio Opera), Dido and Aeneas (UK Tour) and Billy Budd (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden). He was recently featured by Opera Now in their Young Artists: Who’s Hot? section.
Film includes Music War and Love.
Productions at the Finborough Theatre include I Didn’t Always Live Here and The Flouers o' Edinburgh.
Theatre includes Driving Miss Daisy (Wyndham's Theatre), The Normal Heart (Royal Court at the Albery Theatre), The Slab Boys Trilogy (The Young Vic), Anne Of Green Gables (Lilian Baylis Theatre at Sadler’s Wells), Markings (Southwark Playhouse and Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh), Hurricane Roses (National Theatre Studio), Jessie Kesson – A Good Crack At Life (Royal Shakespeare Company Summerhouse and Scottish National Tour), Lady Windermere’s Fan and Fifth Of July (Bristol Old Vic), Romeo and Juliet (Elblag International Festival), Great Expectations (Scottish National Tour), A Woman Of No Importance, The Grapes Of Wrath and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Pitlochry Festival Theatre), Happy Days (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford and Edinburgh Festival), Home (National Tour), Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (Gateway Theatre, Chester), Birds of Paradise (Garrick Theatre), Your Own Thing (Comedy Theatre), Squire Jonathan and his Unfortunate Treasure (Royal Court Theatre), The Steamie (Pitlochry Festival Theatre), and recently Juliet in A Tender Thing, Ben Power’s re-imagined Romeo and Juliet (Dukes Theatre, Lancaster).
Film includes Exposure, The Arbiter, Cancer Tales, Signal Failure, Creatures of Light and Have I Passed?
Television includes Monarch of the Glen (series regular), Casualty, EastEnders, Holby City, Hot Metal, The Unknown Soldier, House on the Hill, Doctors, Roughnecks, Hope It Rains (series regular), Taggart, Extras, The Marlows (series regular) and Dr Who.
Radio includes twice being a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company and recently narrating Melvyn Bragg’s History of Ideas series. Jenny was also Artistic Director of ATTIC Theatre Company, retiring in 2014.
Productions at the Finborough Theatre include Captain Oates’ Left Sock, Somersaults and I Wish To Die Singing.
Trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Theatre includes Rosmersholm and The Playboy Of The Western World (Southwark Playhouse), The 2014 Season (Pitlochry Festival Theatre), Twelfth Night (Perth Horsecross Arts), Total Eclipse (Menier Chocolate Factory), The Anatomist (Eastern Angles), The Pillars of the Community, Henry IV, Parts I and II, Tales of the Vienna Woods, Edmond, Luther, The Spanish Tragedy, Antigone, Danton’s Death, and Venice Preserv’d (National Theatre), Mandrake, Snap, No Man’s Land, The Passion of Dracula, Plenty, Passion Play, When Did You Last See Your Trousers? (all West End), The Crucible (Birmingham REP), Bond Season and Karate Billy Comes Home (Royal Court Theatre) and repertory seasons at Glasgow, Lincoln, Canterbury, Bristol, Cardiff, Watford, Oxford, Edinburgh and Sheffield.
Film includes The Quiet, Oh What a Lovely War!, There’s a Girl In My Soup, Revenge, Killer’s Moon and Feast of July.
Television includes Upstairs Downstairs, Please Sir, Doctor at Large, Coronation Street, Spooks, World’s End, The Thin End of the Wedge, Juliet Bravo, Blind Justice, Joint Account, The Bill, Casualty, Mornin’ Sarge, March on Europe and The Paradise Club.
15 June – 9 July 2016
Tickets and Times
1 hr 50 minutes with one interval of 15 minutes.