OCTOBER SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Petals and Bullets’ by Mark Derby

It was bright moonlight – good bombing light – and once we had to stop and put out our lights as a Fascist aeroplane flew over. They usually come swooping down with guns firing at cars, especially ambulances. Finally we arrived at a town among the hills about 12.30 p.m. Here there is a hospital of about 100 beds in a former convent . . . They expect an attack tonight. – New Zealand nurse Dorothy Morris’s description of her journey to a Republican medical unit of the Spanish Civil War in early 1937

Petals and Bullets is based on the vivid, detailed and evocative letters written by Dorothy Morris to her family in Christchurch, while she was serving in often dangerous circumstances in Spain and other European countries. The letters have been supplemented by wide-ranging research to record a life of outstanding professional dedication, resourcefulness and courage.

Dorothy Aroha Morris (1904–1998) volunteered to serve with Sir George Young’s University Ambulance Unit, and worked at an International Brigades base hospital and as head nurse to a renowned Catalan surgeon. She then headed a Quaker-funded children’s hospital in Murcia, southern Spain. As Franco’s forces advanced, she fled to France and directed Quaker relief services for tens of thousands of Spanish refugees. Nurse Morris spent the Second World War in London munitions factories, as welfare supervisor to their all-female workforces. She then joined the newly formed UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, working in the Middle East and Germany with those who had been displaced and made homeless and destitute as a result of the war.

Dorothy Morris’s remarkable and pioneering work in the fields of military medicine for civilian casualties, and large-scale humanitarian relief projects is told in this book for the first time.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Spain veined with blood and metals, blue and victorious, proletariat of petals and bullets, alone, alive somnolent, resounding.

The quote from Pablo Neruda starts the book of the life of a woman no one knows, but made a huge difference to the lives of those struggling during the Spanish Civil War. Dorothy Morris was born in Cromwell, New Zealand in 1904, by the mid-thirties was working as a nurse. The book charts her early life in New Zealand, a life filled with change, war and strikes which would have moulded Morris’ plan to live a life of helping others. Gtowing up in Christchurch, Morris left New Zealand for London in 1935, with ideas considered ‘radical’, ready to take on Europe.

Morris spent 1936 in London, helping those who were preparing to leave for Spain as civil war broke out, and helped to raise funds for those in need. But by early 1937, she could stand aside no longer. She applied to go to Spain with Sir George Young, to send ambulances to Málaga in Spain’s south. As they set out for Spain, Franco’s forces destroyed Málaga and the killing reached catastrophic levels. Morris and a small group drove through Europe, managed to get over the border from France, and headed for Valencia. By February 1936, they were all sent to Almería to try save the few refugees that hadn’t been murdered on the roads out of Málaga.

Letters from Morris to her family tell of the horror and desperation in Almería, a small city now filled with traumatised refugees and the threat of Franco’s forces ever-present. Morris was charged with aiding the International Brigades, who were suffering from health problems, horrific injuries and starvation.

Morris was moved to Brunete as the huge battle broke out just a few months after her arrival in Spain. She survived to be moved on to Murcia, to aid starving refugees from Málaga, Cadíz and Seville. She called the place an abyss of misery, a city of just 60,000 which had another 60,000 refugees.

Letters and photos of Morris’ time in Spain are beautifully woven into a story through this book, before detailing how, by February 1939, long after International Brigades had left, Morris had to flee. Sadly, Morris had fallen in love with a Republican doctor, a lover whose name was never revealed. He was sent to the front lines along the Ebro in late 1938, and he disappeared. Morris would never hear from him again.

Morris left Spain via Alicante in February 1939, just before the mass killing of refugees, and went to France, where she would then help the 100,000 men in a refugee camp in Perpignan, and worked to send thousands of Spaniards to Latin America in June 1939.

Morris couldn’t bear to leave the area, and moved to the Pyrenees where she worked helping children in a village name La Coume. Morris served as a nurse throughout the entire WWII, enduring her brothers’ imprisonment in Europe, and was chosen to work for the United Nations from 1944. Morris’ letters tell the story of a strong woman, who truly cared about the plight of the working class, of equality and peace. Dorothy Morris is a woman to inspire everyone after 50 years of caring for the suffering of Europe.

The Pop-up Globe Reviews – Part 1: Henry V

HENRY V – Come for the sword fights, but stay for the monologues

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First off, hello to everyone. Once again I slipped away into obscurity, and yes, it was due to working at another sports event. I am who I am. The World Masters Games have just finished in Auckland, and I have been with the organisation since last September. The main event itself was held over the last two weeks and now I am back to my desk, back to writing articles and finishing up my Thomas Cromwell Frailty of Human Affairs monster, which will be released on September 1 (pre-orders will be available soon).

As many of you know, last year I worked at Auckland’s Pop-up Globe. This year, for a variety of personal reasons (much to do with schedules), this new season of Shakespeare was to be one of watching the shows and being a volunteer. If you are still in the dark about PuG, it is a replica of Shakespeare’s second Globe in London (he burned the first one down with a cannon, because, you know, cannons). This year, PuG has two acting companies and four performances to be witnessed. I was going to review all four in one post, but you would have nodded off trying to get through it all. So here we are, first up with my personal favourite, Henry V.

Before I begin – a disclaimer. I tend not to review books/shows/articles/anything done by friends unless specifically requested. This is an exception; I was not asked to review, I chose to, and while I do have friends at the PuG, I have done all I can to be impartial. Also, no whining about spoilers; Henry V died in 1415 and Shakespeare wrote about it in 1599. The PuG season is 90% done.  Let’s not go down the spoiler road again.

The PuG first appeared in a dirty inner-Auckland carpark last year, with the classic ‘build it and they will come’ approach. And come they did. A temporary, exposed scaffold circle within the working dimensions of Shakespeare’s outdoor playhouse had a beautiful naivety about it. A world first; an idea born of passion and creativity, filled with people personally invested in its success. The public were to be personally welcomed in; my playhouse is your playhouse. Come and enjoy the spectacle. The PuG company of actors produced two shows, each so popular that by four weeks into the 12-week season, you could not get a seat. Some nights I had to get my ticket scanners to stop logging tickets and just get people through the gates because of the sheer volume of people lined up, desperate to get inside. People reappeared after Twelfth Night, still wiping tears of laughter, after Romeo and Juliet, out came hundreds of stunned faces.

For season two, the child has grown into a teenager, the same playhouse in a new spot. Now, a new location in an easy, flat (on grass, which for Auckland this rainy season has been a challenge), wide open location. No more queues at the box offices in an attempt to get in, with fingers crossed you can take someone else’s place. There are always seats and space to go around. No more queues at the gate or tackling the crowds to enter the site. Now you will be sent straight in with barely a smile, whereas last year staff chatted through endless discussions on the novelty of the project. The bar area is bigger and better this year, the wine drinkable, and you can easily find yourself making new friends before the playhouse even opens. Gone are the t-shirted volunteers, trotting back and forth, welcoming and discussing all things Shakespeare and PuG before the door opened (though they still around, still acting as ushers this year). The friendly faces at the merchandise box can answer all your queries and supply better programmes, and beautiful PuG posters (sadly the t-shirts did not make a comeback – staff only).

As I say, the child has grown up. The doors open and you are shown your seat, or to the groundlings yard, and told what you can and cannot do. The bulk of people are those who visited last year, or came this year due to the ear-chewing they got from friends for missing out. The playful innocence is dead, the novelty has worn off – now it’s down to business. And that is what you see on stage – last year saw two shows done by PuG, and another half-dozen shows by visiting companies (whose reviews ranged from ‘fun’, ‘intense’, ‘adequate’ to ‘can I get refund’). This year, PuG provides two acting companies, the Queen’s Company, a mix of ten men and four women performing Othello and Much Ado About Nothing, and the King’s Company, another all-male cast of 16 (like last year) with As You Like It and Henry V.

As I was saying – HENRY V – Come for the sword fights, but stay for the monologues

I have seen Henry V at PuG a whopping 28 times so far this season. I am a historian, okay? I had no plans to see every performance, I just somehow ended up seeing the first 20 and then decided to stick with the theme. We can wax lyrical about how Shakespeare murders history, but like it or not, much of how history is conveyed and believed is down to Shakespeare’s take on the facts (look at poor Richard III). Henry V is taken on by the King’s Company, with many of the cast of 16 taking on multiple roles to get the show done, a feat in itself. No need to be a history buff – the moment the actors appear in traditional costumes, you are right there in the mix of 1415 and 1625 (because, you know, Shakespeare). The costumes in Henry V are the jewel in PuG’s crown, and it is easy to be distracted by the desire to want to feel the fabrics, touch the crowns, flick the feathers in the hats. If they wanted to sell tickets for people just to get close the costumes, PuG could make a profit in just that alone.

Henry V is marketed as an action-packed night out, and it really is. The sword-fighting, the loud cannons, the flaming arrows have the crowd cheering and yelling with excitement. Gone is the temporary-looking scaffold behind the stage, now it sports a very permanent-looking backdrop, a brick castle facade, the heavens painted above for maximum effect. As I say, the novelty has worn off and PuG has gone pro. Fight Director Alex Holloway has been given free rein, hence the flaming arrows soaring overhead as Harfleur is tackled by the English. Shakespeare, when done well, uses little in terms of props. These fight scenes, clanging swords and all, takes this minimal prop usage and creates a spectacle that has groundlings stepping back from the stage for their own safety and then peering forward for the bloody climaxes. 10/10 for effect and enjoyment.

Shows so often have one or two performers who steal the show, and that effect goes in the right direction. Chris Huntly-Turner plays Henry with a performance which will leave you cheering for war, not exactly a sensation many want aroused within them. From the beginning, Henry comes across as both eloquent and rational, compelling and convincing. Henry was a man not born for the throne, but through battle became beloved, though Shakespeare cast him as a man who played away his youth and then became a King and a hero. Huntly-Turner shows that transformation; a young man prepared to stand alongside all who came before him, to take France by force, as his right. Henry is charming, honest, trusted and alluring in Huntly-Turner’s hands. He can swing a bloody sword and threaten rape and pillage at Harfleur, but can pray to God through tears when help is needed. He can put convincingly condemn lifelong friends to death or plead for the love of a French princess with equal poise and confidence. One school matinee gave me the opportunity to witness school boys gathered around Huntly-Turner, who sat with them, talking of the internal conflict a King has when sending men to their gruesome deaths, before giving them tips on winning the heart of a lady not half an hour later, the boys’ eyes lit with excitement the whole time. In a play which shows the realities of living during the Hundred Years’ War period, Huntly-Turner has the crowd laughing and cheering as well as in tears. It is possible to watch the entire performance through Chris Huntly-Turner’s facial expressions alone, such is the depth of the actor’s performance.

The sheer volume of passion in the voice of Michael Mahony, playing the role of Chorus (believed to have been played by Shakespeare himself), is enough to interest even the biggest Shakespeare beginner. Clad in an orange vest and pushing a cleaning trolley, Mahony sets the scenes, guides the audience, and bridges the gap between actor and audience member, regardless of the subject matter. From opening the play with a stirring pageant of words, to guiding the crowds over the sea, to the sad final moments about what came after Henry V, Mahony is a driving force in the cast, forever being in the action, and relatable to everyone in the playhouse.

Another stand-out is Joe Dekker-Reihana, who takes on the roles of both Boy and Princess Katherine. Dekker-Reihana brings a sincere and tenderfooted character to life, playing Boy, a commoner sent to fight for the King. Armed with a frying pan, Boy is subjected to much terror and pain as bit by bit, all he knows is destroyed. Dekker-Reihana then turns completely into the Princess Katherine, and in a flawless switch between French and English, adds laughter to the show when needed and stops the unwavering Henry in his tracks, a force all of her own. It is no wonder the end is so satisfying for the audience.

I could go on and on but instead, I’m going to tell you what you need to go and see (or see again). Watch out for –

  • Stephen Butterworth as Montjoy, an overconfident Frenchman who starts off telling Henry where to get off and ends up giving profound respect. Regardless of how the relationship evolves, Butterworth is engaging and believable (bonus point – Butterworth also plays Alice, Katherine’s maid, and is a real sweetheart)
  • Jonathon Tynan-Moss as Jamy, a Scottish captain who brings levity right when it is needed. You will also love him as the purple-clad Duke of Berri, a tearful prostitute, and as the Earl of Cambridge crying ‘never did faithful subject more rejoice at the discovery of most dangerous treason’
  • The epic costume changes done by Edward Newborn who plays both base-born Pistol and the King of France. Newborn plays two very different characters and pulls it off without so much as a wipe of his brow (except when the mud and blood needs to come off I assume). Newborn also holds one of the most powerful moments in the show, when he and Katherine share a silent moment after the capture of Harfleur
  • Joel Herbert as Westmoreland is uttering convincing and terrifying with a sword in his hand. Also keep an ear out for him in Act 2 Scene 4: ‘Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt, and any thing that may not misbecome the mighty sender, doth he prize you at. Thus says my king; an’ if your father’s highness do not, in grant of all demands at large, sweeten the bitter mock you sent his majesty, he’ll call you to so hot an answer of it, that caves and womby vaultages of France shall chide your trespass and return your mock in second accent of his ordnance!’
  • The moment Antonio Te Maioha appears as the Constable of France, ready for the final showdown with Henry

Much has been made of the use of all-male casts at PuG, but I will save my opinion on that for my As You Like It post. Henry V only has four female characters anyway (thanks, Shakespeare), and in this, three are played by men, one omitted completely. Hey, Shakespeare – #ifshecanseeitshecanbeit

Henry V still has five shows left. I will be there for all of them and you should be too. I recommend standing: I always do. I have a great ability to be invisible, so my constant presence has probably gone unnoticed, though my blanket in the colours of the flag of St George might make me stand out more on these last few cold nights, so come and say hi.

The dates are (pop ‘groundlings’ into the promo box for a $1 ticket) –

I shall be back tomorrow with my As You Like It review.

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All opinions and photos are author’s own unless specified.