Heart-ambushingly beautiful choral installation #Refrain by Verity Standen @situationsUK – Newhaven audience

#Refrain conveyed the emotion and layers of cultural memory of #WWI as it still resonates 100 years later. @situationsUK – Richmond audience

Using only the enchanting male voice and the resonance of three extraordinary sites, Refrain by Verity Standen drew upon the often untold stories of conscientious objectors in the First World War.

Refrain was performed in Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire, to St. Helens, Merseyside and Newhaven Fort in East Sussex. In Spring 2017, these three places of historical significance came alive with song, each with a different group of local untrained male singers. Every group was different, ranging from teenagers to pensioners.

Participants included a doctor, scrap metal merchant, a Methodist minister, students, asylum seekers, people who have experienced homelessness, and a Green Party candidate who hasn’t sung for 50 years.

Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire

Just over 100 years ago, at Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire, sixteen conscientious objectors were detained in the 19th century cell block. Before they were sent to France to be court-martialed, the ‘Richmond Sixteen’ covered the cell walls with the words and drawings which inspired hundreds of other subsequent marks of resistance in WWI and WWII.

St Helens, Merseyside 

St Helens was the home of school teacher, Ernest Everett who was arrested due to his refusal to undertake combative service in 1916. He was court-martialled and sentenced to two years’ hard labour, the first conscientious objector to receive such a sentence. Over the next few years, he was sentenced seven more times. He died around 1920, after being ostracized by the community and put in grueling prisons for his views. In REFRAIN, Everett’s story, symbolic of many more cases of this kind, is given voice once again.

Newhaven Fort, East Sussex

Newhaven Fort is the last of a long series of defences built on the cliffs overlooking Seaford Bay, the ramparts and extensive tunnel network holding 150 years of history. During the First World War, Newhaven became one of the major supply ports to the Western Front and many of the 900 Conscientious Objectors based at the nearby non combatant camps were either put to work on the road improvements between Seaford and Newhaven, or set to work at the docks, handling food supplies.

Following a workers’ strike COs were ordered to handle munitions, and those who refused to comply were threatened with execution for mutiny, sent to a camp at Seaford and court martialled at Newhaven Fort.

Refrain: The Future of Remembrance

The short documentary commissioned by Situations, Refrain: The Future of Remembrance charts the ways that Verity Standen and three different local male groups of untrained singers brought this challenging work to life. The film offers a glimpse into the unique process of creating and devising Refrain, as well as an insight into the powerful background to the charged sites of performance across the country

Verity Standen

Verity is an award-winning artist, composer and choir leader, whose unique work with voices has surprised and enchanted audiences around the UK and internationally. From intimate concerts to immersive theatrical experiences, Verity’s work seeks to reimagine how audiences experience vocal music. REFRAIN is her most ambitious project to date. www.veritystanden.com

Refrain was performed at:
Richmond Castle – 7th – 9th April
St. Helens – 20th – 21st May
Newhaven Fort – 9th – 11th June

Credits and thanks

REFRAIN is produced by Situations with Verity Standen Projects, in partnership with English Heritage, Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts and Heart of Glass, St. Helens.
Photo: Paul Blakemore
Film: LightTrap Films

Funders and supporters

It is generously supported by Arts Council England, the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, The Space and Heritage Lottery Fund.

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