TALES FROM THE UNDERWORLD – Chapter 2


Mercedes Kemp
100:UnEarth Artistic Lead/Writer/Researcher/

The World of the Living

The world of the living, the field of Home, was set at Heligan’s West Lawn. At the end of 100:The Day Our World Changed, the lost soldiers walked away across this same field towards the sea and the vast horizon beyond. It seemed right that 100:UnEarth would start here.

When I was preparing for 100:THDOWC, I read Letters from Lamledra, Marjorie Williams letters to her husband from Gorran Parish during WW1. She described the work of keeping the fields fruitful at a time of scarcity, without available men to do the work. She also wrote of the movements of birds, the changing seasons, the sea. At the Imperial War Museum there were images of these land women in their stiff, woollen working clothes, driving ploughs, digging the earth and gathering the harvest, but also resting together, dancing sometimes, a company of women.
This was the image that received you when you arrived at the field of Home. A world of women and children at the end of a hard-working day. The women are cutting hay, preparing food, missing their men.

And then you heard the sound of distant music and saw the men emerging from the distance over the brow of the hill. At first they looked like a mirage, slowly taking shape, a band of ragged survivors, stumbling towards Home.

Their commander is Orpheus. He’s a soldier, an officer, a leader of men. His men love him and trust him. They have been through years of war together and he has seen them through many trials. He is courageous and determined. He does not contemplate failure.

The homecoming is bittersweet. There are passionate reunions, there is sad news for those whose loved ones have been lost. At the centre of this is the encounter between Orpheus and his beloved wife Eurydice. There is such hope in this moment, as if all the suffering can be put behind, as if there can be a new beginning. But death is not far, it hovers over the men like a shadow. In a random accident with a hand grenade Euydice is killed. There is a moment of total silence, but for the sound of birds flying out of trees, scared by the outrage.

And then sergeant Hermes, Orpheus companion, intones his Farsi Lament, sings it out into the landscape, carrying with it all of the sorrow of a lost land and a lost people. And this is real, because this is Mohsen Ghaffari, who plays Hermes, has brought this expression of grief from his native Iran, reminding us that the war we are remembering was not, after all, the war to end all wars.
When Orpheus finds that Eurydice has died, his rage is uncontainable. Because he had promised he would come back, and he has come back, and how can death play such a nasty trick on him? But remember, he is not a man to contemplate failure. And so his decision is made. He will travel into the Underworld to pluck the beloved out of the death’s grip.

And so we move between the worlds.

 

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