Nick Le Mesurier reviews This Evil Thing at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford
Spectacles come in many forms. Some are very large and rely on effects. These are usually soon forgotten. Others are smaller, and work because of their intensity. This Evil Thing is of the latter kind.
Written and performed by Michael Mears, it tells the story of those other heroes of the First Word War, largely forgotten and at the time despised. Conscientious Objectors were those who refused to fight, usually on religious but sometimes on political grounds. Most agreed to serve without carrying arms. A few, like Bert Brocklesby, were Absolutists, who refused to support the war in any capacity. In spite of their principles they were conscripted and imprisoned, even tortured for their refusal to participate in the carnage that was engulfing Europe and for which there was at the time an almost universal appetite.
Such a subject demands a performance of great power and sincerity, and it gets it. Michael Mears performs this play alone, in 52 roles, which include Bert and his colleagues in the No-Conscription Fellowship, an organisation that provided what little support it could, and included the likes of Bertrand Russel in its numbers.
Most intriguing is Michael’s use of simple wooden boxes and pallets as props. They become prison cells, beds, platforms, torture chambers. But they are only the frame for a story as passionate and important as any you will see on the stage.
What would I do, he asks, in their position? Himself a pacifist, he, like us, cannot know until the time comes. Principles come easy when the price is low. Then the price was very high. We should remember them as equals to those who fought and died.
* The play was performed on October 25. See www.thebearpit.org.uk for details of future shows.