Shiona Morton writes the latest blog as part of our Forge Season. Her piece, A Soldier’s Sketchbook will be performed in The Lab as part of Forge on Saturday 26th July at 8pm. You can book your tickets via the show page or by calling our Box Office on 01752 267222.
I came across the story behind A Soldier’s Sketchbook while researching another play. I discovered an account of how the famous Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh was arrested in Walberswick, Suffolk in 1914, because he was suspected of being a German spy. What was CRM doing in Suffolk as war broke out? The answer seems to be that he was recovering from some kind of breakdown. Despite his extraordinary talent and his completion of the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh had been excommunicated from the artistic world in Glasgow. Margaret MacDonald, his wife, and fellow-artist was pleased to find him a rest-cure in a favourite spot where he could happily paint and recover. There they were, two of the most talented artists of their time, spending that fateful summer away from Scotland, trying to gain some kind of mental and physical composure.
They would never return to live in Glasgow, and Mackintosh would never receive in his lifetime anything like the acclaim his work has since received. They found themselves a kind of studio in a fisherman’s hut. He painted flowers, just as he had as a boy, when he was starting out in his journey into art. They had planned to travel, to visit friends in Paris, Berlin and Vienna where their work was well known, but with the declaration of war, all that changed. It was a summer in Suffolk, walking in the beach, and painting in the shed.
I found an account of a boy who watched Mackintosh on the beach. To me, the boy became the focus. What if he was fourteen, the age of the century? What if he, like many others, enlisted underage because of some sense of duty or desire for adventure? I have imagined this boy, whom I have called Frank Applewhite, meeting the famous artist. In a tiny moment, a sketchbook is exchanged, an event which is enough to change what happens to Frank that summer.
A Soldier’s Sketchbook was developed with artist Bill Wroath and performer Ben Simpson. Bill has created the images which travel through Frank’s mind before and during his war experiences. Ben conjures for the audience, not only the central character of Frank, but the voices and personalities of all the people he meets.