In recent months the atmospheric catacombs of St George’s Hall have been opened up to the public for a series of imaginative events. In February the Catacombs Tour incorporated live theatrical performances as visitors explored the catacombs and learned about their many past uses, including as police cells, air raid shelters and army billeting quarters. So successful were the tours that a revised version, with new characters and stories, returns to the Hall from Monday 26 May – Sunday 1st June. (You can still read our report on the February tour by clicking HERE.)
Now the centenary of the beginning of World War 1 is marked by Echoes Of The First World War, which uses the catacombs as the setting for a moving and informative reflection on the part that Liverpool and its citizens played in the great conflict. Well-known local historian Frank Carlyle is our guide and narrator, and his commentary is accompanied by live performances by a company of six actors, all in period costume.
We learn how early feelings of enthusiasm for the war and confidence about its outcome (there was a two mile queue to enlist in Liverpool) were followed for those who took part by exposure to the cruel reality of life in the trenches. Individual stories of tragedy and heroism bring this reality vividly home to us. The writer Rudyard Kipling lost his son in the fighting, having intervened on his behalf when it looked like the army wouldn’t allow him to enlist. We hear about some of the Merseyside soldiers who won the Victoria Cross, including of course Noel Chavasse, the only man to be awarded it twice.
The authenticity of the scenes and presentations is not in doubt as much of the historical content is based on soldiers’ diaries and letters, and the works of soldier poets. The claustrophobic catacombs lend themselves well to a careful and convincing recreation of the trenches. Lighting and sound effects evoke the atmosphere of battle, contrasting with the cheerful songs of the era (such as Mademoiselle From Armentieres) that occasionally play in the background, and powerful black and white photos effectively complement the other elements.
In a year when we’re rightly being asked to remember the First World War, this is an immersive experience that really does help us to imagine what the conflict was like for those involved.
Echoes Of The First World War is at St George’s Hall from Mon 10 March to Sun 16 March. For more information, click HERE.