REVIEW: Pen versus sword in Michael Mears’ Now Thrive the Armourers

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Michael Mears in rehearsals for his upcoming play The Mistake, which deals with the bombing of Hiroshima. He hopes to bring the production to Stratford in the autumn. See https://michaelmears.org

Actor Michael Mears’ solo performance Now thrive the Armourers, Kempe Society, Stratford, 2nd February

It’s easy to conjure political figures of hate and distrust, to rail against them and express our wrath via furious rants on social media… but these Trumps, Putins, Jong-uns, et al, perhaps loom too fully in our sights, allowing a yet more sinister breed to carry on their dreadful misdeeds largely unnoticed.

They are the arms dealers and manufacturers – destroyers of worlds and lives since time immemorial. This evening rightly puts the focus on these ‘armourers’, with recitals from war correspondent Robert Fisk, and playwrights Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.

It is compiled and read by actor and pacifist Michael Mears, who has made it his mission to ask uncomfortable question about war through his quite brilliant solo shows. He was last here at Kempe Studios with This Evil Thing, which looked at conscientious objectors during the First World War – in which he masterfully portrayed all the characters involved.

This evening’s title, Now Thrive The Armourers, is from Henry V – excerpts from which are delivered with such incredible skill, clarity and poignance by Mears that court scenes and battlefield are readily brought to the mind’s eye.

Between the reciting of text, interludes are richly filled with pieces of music from Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975). Introducing the evening, Kempe Society artistic director Cordula Kempe recalls an incredible meeting with the genius Russian composer. It was the mid-1970s, just before his death – he was with his wife and Cordula was with her late husband, Rudolf Kempe, the world-renowned conductor. She recalls it was the height of the Cold War, they were surrounded by agents, and, even though they didn’t speak the same language, there was an unspoken commune between them. Indeed Shostakovich’s wonderfully emotional and poetic music – from march, polka to elegiac – converses so wonderfully with the soul words don’t seem necessary. …

Anyway we have powerful words aplenty tonight – ones which engage the mind and morals and demand to be heard. I’m now desperate to see Shaw’s sporadically performed Major Barbara in its entirety after seeing Mears as weapon-dealer Andrew Undershaft compellingly and terrifyingly making the case for the multiplicity of armaments. In the second part of the evening Mears turns his attentions to Fisk, reading from his book The Great War For Civilisation. It is full of mindblowing insights and grim stories from his time as a war correspondent reporting from the Middle East. Fisk is a trusty and wise eyewitness, and his exposure of the nefarious arms-dealing trade, and false news spread by the warmongers, is horrifying. Mears’ delivery of Fisk’s stories is sharp, heartbreaking, at times funny, and utterly convincing.

One story involves Fisk tracing a Hellfire missile used by the Israeli air force to murder women and children in Lebanon right back to the men in suits in Gainesville, Georgia, who manufactured it… Guess what, even when confronted with images of children bloody and dying after the airstrike, the ‘armourers’ decline to take responsibility.

Well done, Mr Mears for helping us to see the true horrors of war at least.

For more information about Michael’s work and to support his upcoming work The Mistake, which deals with the bombing of Hiroshima, visit https://michaelmears.org/