What would happen if some children acted as soldiers, just for fun? And what if a soldier decided to join them in their games?
This is exactly what A Strange Wild Song explores, drawing inspiration from the story of a Belgian photographer who met a group of children in the outskirts of Paris during the First World War and recorded their adventures as an ‘army’ with his camera.
The play features an American soldier and three children, plus the soldier’s grandson and a group of enthusiasts about lost vintage items. What links all these people is the recovery of the soldier’s camera, and more importantly of the film inside it. The pictures bring into being the story of the soldier and the three children. At first suspicious, the trio wage war on the soldier, not without funny outcomes. Once the communication problems have been solved, the soldier will find himself joining the children in a lively and unexpected version of war: as pretty much everything at that age, war is seen as a game, and so are the trainings, the air expeditions, the missions, the sorties.
However, when war in the end shows its inevitable and most cruel side, no more games are to be found: a real air attack will bring back the children and the soldier (and the audience) to reality. The sudden brutality of war results in a shock for everyone, and tears apart everything the children and the soldier have been building up before our eyes. This seems to invite the audience to reflect on how meaningful, and at the same time meaningless, war can be.
The acting is generally very good and from the very beginning – a brilliant mute opening scene – it stands out for its agility, elegance, harmony; everything moving on stage gives an impression of easiness and coordination. Innovative performing techniques are also used, including a fantastic marionette-style piece describing the heroic mission of one of the children as a pilot. This typically childish technique not only conveys the idea that everything the children are experiencing is perceived as a game, but it also manages to lighten the atmosphere and make us forget that war is always lurking in the background.
The live music fits in very well, too, and the choreographic movements accompanying it can easily be described as pieces of dancing. This combination of different forms of art merging together gives excellent results, in a well-orchestrated play which is simply a pleasure for the eyes and ears – at least until we are reminded that it is war we are talking about. But it is precisely in its ability to portray war in unwarlike tones which lays the greatness of A Strange Wild Song.