Play commemorates WWI aces for the Festival of Chichester

Danielle
Danielle

After a successful debut at the Brighton Fringe in May, The Harbour Theatre Company bring Love in “The Harbour” to the Festival of Chichester.

With music by Danielle Morgan and John Merrigan from Pagham, it comes from playwright Eddie Alford and celebrates three Irish World War One flying aces. Fast-paced action moves between Ireland and front-line France in a blend of fact and fiction to mark the RAF’s centenary year. It plays Chichester’s Oxmarket Gallery on Thursday, July 5 at 8pm and Friday, July 6 at 8pm.

“The whole project was serendipity,” says John. “About 18 months to two years ago, we were doing a gig in Brighton and we met the playwright at a radio interview. We got talking and we found out that we had a lot of shared interests in plays and in the arts and in music. And he asked us would we write the music for a play that he was writing around three World War One flying aces, the top aces of the war and two of them won Victoria Crosses. They were all Irish but they were not given the recognition that they were due in Ireland because they were fighting for the English – and in England because they upstaged all the public schoolboys who were in what became the RAF. In the whole context of World War One, they were a bit forgotten.

“He wrote a play that was a combination of action in Ireland where they lived and the airfields where they were fighting the war. It’s a mix of fact and fiction, trying to give an insight into the pressures that they were under in the real-life situations. It is still very revelant today. That led us to engaging with the people at Tangmere museum, and they were great. They have been so welcoming, and again it was absolutely serendipity. When we went there, they were showing movies about these air aces. It was just incredible, and they had some wonderful exhibits dedicated to these men.

“The playwright gave us the script and gave us free rein to see what pieces of music should go where to enhance the scenes. We spent a lot of time researching and bouncing ideas around. We have ended up with various songs and incidental music which we have used for creating tension and creating the atmosphere.”

The music has been recorded, and the recordings will be used in the performance of the play – “not a musical, not really a play, but a play with music”, John says.

Playwright Eddie said: “The play is set in Shannon Harbour, Co Offaly and northern France. Set in 1916-1918, it features George McElroy known as McIrish in the Royal Flying Corps. There is a fictional love story between George and Grace, the receptionist in The Grand Canal Hotel in Shannon Harbour.

“Grace’s father is the local Republican leader and is not impressed with the young English officer. George also has an encounter with a rebel in Shannon Harbour.

“In France we visit the pilots of The Royal Flying Corps behind the front line, drinking in the mess and entertaining themselves with music-hall acts. We also see them in combat.

“Pilots had a very short shelf life, so by 1916 the Royal Flying Corps were running short of public schoolboys and had to open up recruitment. The main character is George, from Dublin. His parents were teachers. He was the third top ace in the Royal Flying Corps in World War One. He volunteered as a dispatch rider at the beginning of the war and reached the rank of corporal on the Western Front before being commissioned as a lieutenant in The Royal Irish Regiment. The number one and two aces, Mick Mannock and Jimmy McCudden, also Irishmen, feature in the play. Jimmy joined before the war and trained as an aircraft engineer. He worked his way up the ranks to the rank of Major. A brilliant engineer, he was also one of the best flying instructors in the RFC.”

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