All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 marks the second WWI story from Promise Adelaide this year, and aims to demonstrate that humanity can be found in even the most horrifying of places.
The fighting halted for a short while on WWI’s front line in late December of 1914. Thousands of British and German men put down their weapons, disobeying their superiors, and left the trenches along the Western Front to meet their enemies in No Man’s Land. With a Christmas spirit of peace and giving generous, men from sides exchanged gifts of tobacco, rum, chocolates and even photographs of loved ones. They sang songs, played soccer, and buried each other’s dead. Upon orders, they returned to their trenches to fight in a war that would last four more years.
Trish and Ben Francis, co-producers for Promise Adelaide, stumbled across this powerful and unique wartime event while researching their first WWI production of the year, Private Peaceful, which showed back in May. Private Peaceful told of the executions of allied soldiers for cowardice, and contrasts boldly with All is Calm, which tells the personal stories of the individuals who took part in that never-to-be-repeated Christmas truce.
All is Calm is a musical and spoken word peformance, telling its tale through the songs that were sung at the time and through the letters and poems of the soldiers who lived the experience. Performed by an all-male cast, the music ranges from trench songs, to patriotic songs, to Christmas songs, each performed in a cappella harmonies.
Paul Reichstein, All is Calm’s director, says was moved when he learned of the peace that prevailed in 1914.
“[I have] always been deeply connected to stories from the world wars and haunted by the senseless loss and the painful, or triumphant stories that come from these events,” Reichstein says. “It’s something about the sense of sacrifice and the exploration of our most human versus our most inhumane choices.”
All is Calm differs largely from other WWI productions, as it inspires hope but is baffling all the same. “I question, did the [soldiers] even know what they were fighting for?,” asks Reichstein. “Probably not. They were firing rifles because they were ordered to. Yet out of that, there is this moment where British men shake hands with the Germans, in the middle of No Man’s Land. It’s almost absurd.”
The themes of love and sharing that Christmas stories so often raise are seen by these men even in this foreign, brutal place.
“The Truce stands as a moment in time in which the greatest humanity overcame the senselessness and horror of warfare.” Rechstein says. “The soldiers craved it, they needed it and clearly they had spent too many days and weeks and months drowning in the darkness of it all.”
Reichstein says he wants conviction and integrity from the performance as well.
“As a director, the great challenge for me is to get the cast to understand that this isn’t some fictional narrative in which you play characters that come out of the imagination of the playwright,” he says. “These are first-hand accounts of something that took place; of the struggles and the painful and private moments of men who were there.”
One of Reichstein’s favourite details of this unique piece of history is the presence of Christmas trees on the Western Front, which were provided by the Germans. Noting that the Western Front was one of the most “horrific, nonsensical, inhumane and barbaric environments” on Earth, the thought of setting up Christmas trees is just about unfathomable.
“Yet somehow, through the desperate need for respite and reprieve, something came about that wasn’t about battle … it was about sharing and even for a moment, it was about connection.”
All is Calm
Thursday, December 21, 8pm
Friday, December 22, 8pm
Saturday, December 23, 3pm & 8pm
Tickets via trybooking.com
Photography: Supplied by Promise Adelaide