HARRY VENDRYES 'THE SILENCE', LYCEUM THEATRE OCTOBER 1915

Silent Cacophony was a series of public performance art interventions across London, England and other international cities on Remembrance Day 2013 exploring how people reach their opinion on war and conflict. Artists were asked to respond to locations that had experience sudden explosions during war. Harry Vendryes wrote a piece of work specifically for an attack on Covent Garden during the First World War.

The home of Disney’s The Lion King musical, the Lyceum Theatre is in the heart of London’s Theatreland. During the evening of October 13th 1915, a German Zeppelin, named L15, began dropping bombs on Westminster and across the City of London.

The first of L15′s bombs fell on and around the Lyceum Theatre just off the Strand. The first bombs fell during the interval of the performance at the Lyceum, striking the theatre and the roads around it. The Old Bell pub, just behind the theatre, was full of customers (including theatre-goers). 17 people were killed by the bomb on the junction of Exeter St and Wellington St, including eight in the pub, and 21 others were seriously injured.

The Zeppelin continued its destructive visit to the capital, dropping further bombs around Lincoln’s Inn, Grey’s Inn, Farringdon and Aldgate. (L15 returned home safely that night, but it was destroyed a few months later by anti-aircraft fire while on another bombing mission).

Great War London: London and Londoners in the First World War[1]

Responding to this tragedy, actor Harry Vendryes wrote a short narrative, which he performed at a closed Lyceum, considering how a man looking back on his boyhood may have felt before and after the bombs fell. Documented on The Lion King stage by conceptual visual artist Sandra Djukic, the fictional story is a recollection of being struck by the blast outside the theatre. The story chimes with the origins of The Lion King itself, which developed by ‘establishing the main theme as “leaving childhood and facing up to the realities of the world.”’ [2]

Vendryes captures the confusion such events frequently fashion; ‘childhood recollections are often fanciful, twisted and disjointed over time’ he states, a point that will resonate with many adults when recalling their own past. The background noises inside the Lyceum, the hovering, whistling, chatter, as the theatre team labour to prepare the seating area for the afternoon matinee, have resemblances of domesticity. These sounds relay thoughts of home. In reading accounts of people surviving near death experiences there is a recurring theme of ‘irrational’ thoughts of home, childhood, loved ones. Vendryes states, ‘super heated air pummelled me to the ground […] in that short space of time I feared for those I would never see again, my mother and sister, father who would return from war to a grieving house, the newly painted bike I would never ride again”

Because of the tight schedule of preparing each of The Lion King shows there was only a half hour window to record this video, the intention was for documentation only. To Vendryes and my own surprise, Djukic has created a much stronger film that stands on its own, genuinely drawing in the viewer, creating empathy with the boy/man character, the emotion this man still feels as if the event occurred yesterday, ‘until you have witnessed the same, please do not judge a man, for the nightmares will stay with you and consume you until the end.’

In an email to me commenting on the film, Harry wrote:

Here’s the weird thing John: seeing this video three months later, I was momentarily left wondering who that poor devil was in 1915. Then it suddenly occurred to me… I wrote it, and it isn’t about a real person. Can’t even remember doing it. Words were needed, so it was written. It exists for no other reason than that.

John McKiernan, Creator and Producer of Silent Cacophony 2013

Harry Vendryes is an actor living in London, contact Nancy Hudson [click]

Sandra Djukic website: http://www.sandradjukic.com/

Silent Cacophony Website: http://www.silentcacophony.co.uk

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[1] Great War London: London and Londoners in the First World War, 2 June 2013, wordpress blog, posted by Stuart [http://greatwarlondon.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/a-zepp-raid-and-a-suicide/]

[2] Finch, Christopher (1994). “Afterword”. The art of The Lion King. Hyperion. pp. 165–193. ISBN 978-0-7868-6028-9 (Wikipedia)