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Review: The Sage Gateshead tells a tale of war told through music and dance

The frustrations of the war correspondent are brought to the stage in a new work of 'song theatre'

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Simon Richardson A scene from War Correspondents, a work of 'song theatre' by Helen Chadwick
A scene from War Correspondents, a work of 'song theatre' by Helen Chadwick

War Correspondents at Sage Gateshead

You might think a story of journalists on the frontline, told in the confines of an auditorium, could be rather underwhelming.

But Helen Chadwick’s work of ‘song theatre’ masterfully manipulated the Sage’s quaint Hall Two space to create a compelling atmosphere of tension and isolation.

The five-person performance, on a thrust stage illuminated only by desk lamps, blended music and dance to relate the moral, emotional and mental experiences of those reporting from war-torn countries.

Forming interludes in the music were haunting recordings of frontline correspondents describing their experiences.

Smooth harmonies and impressively choreographed dance sequences contribute to a memorable theatrical work which poignantly articulates the nature of a journalist’s work.

It presents us with a group of people frustrated by their desire to help those in need but only being able to do so indirectly via the media.

A scene from War Correspondents, a work of 'song theatre' by Helen Chadwick
 

Billeted with the military in hostile lands, the correspondents find the truth constantly concealed from them in what they call a sophisticated form of ‘news management’.

Attempts to mute press coverage of atrocities, they claim, is censorship masquerading as ‘spin’.

The production powerfully explores the theme of loneliness. In one memorable segment the five reporters dance slowly, embracing thin air rather than each other while wishing for home.

All 29 songs feature strong vocal collaborations and each embellish a narrative that explores the sense of being a bystander in a devastating conflict.

The five are left depleted at the end, describing their post traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms as a “bruising” of the mind. All agree that, no matter what, war will happen “again and again”.

War Correspondents, a co-production by Sage Gateshead, Durham Book Festival and Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, is also being performed tonight (Wednesday, October 15) at Durham Cathedral.

Jack Hardy

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