A home fit for heroes

A film by Age Exchange with St Matthews Academy Lewisham exploring the legacy of WW1 in post WW1 British theatre

The project was funded by The Noel Coward Foundation and Unity Theatre Trust.

Students from St Matthew’s Academy in Lewisham worked with filmmakers from Age Exchange to explore how WW1 affected the post war theatre. The students used Noel Coward’s 1939 play This Happy Breed and looked at the emergence of working class theatre through the Unity Theatre in London.

Unity Theatre was part of a post WW1 movement in the arts inspired by the Russian Revolution and creating a voice for the working classes. Unity used a particular theatrical device called Living Newspapers which allowed contemporary issues to be presented on stage in an accessible non-naturalistic style using a mixture of movement, music and dialogue.

The students looked at the different stories of men returning from the front. They then created a short piece of theatre in the style of the Living Newspaper reflecting the range of feelings and experiences of the men.

This Happy Breed by Noel Coward opens in 1918 with a scene between Frank and Ethel Gibbins as they begin a new life in a new home. Frank talks about how after all he has seen he has lost his faith in a God who ‘singles out a few to be nice to and let’s all the others rot.” While Ethel reminds him that it was equally hard for women at home awaiting telegrams and seeing disabled servicemen come home changed forever both physically and mentally by their injuries.

The students then produced short improvised scenes inspired by this dialogue.

Finally students had the opportunity to meet volunteers from Age Exchange who shared stories about family members who lived through WW1. The students then re-interpreted one of those stories through a short improvised scene.

For Age Exchange:

Project Leaders:  Malcolm Jones & Simon Purins

Film directed by Simon Purins

For St Matthews Academy:

Thanks to Emma Thurston and Natalie Stewart

With special thanks to: Liana Gaba & Crystal Nelson and all the students from St Matthews Academy

Thanks to Chris Cooper, Ruth Gayfer and David Savill for sharing their family stories