Film professor inspires play to open WW1 commemorations


A major new play developed by award-winning film professor Christopher Morris has been commissioned by National Theatre Wales as one of the key cultural events to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Mametz will be a large scale, site-specific production performed in an ancient woodland near Usk, Monmouthshire, and will give audiences a vivid glimpse into life – and death – in the trenches and battlefields of the Somme.

Written by Owen Sheers, it will draw on written material from poets who fought in one of the War’s bloodiest conflicts, the Battle of Mametz Wood, which killed or wounded 4,000 of the 38th (Welsh) Division of the Army. Among the soldiers who fought were several key Welsh and English war poets, including Robert Graves, David Jones, Siegfried Sasson and Wyn Griffith.

Professor Morris has been instrumental in developing the idea for the play with writer Owen Sheers and winning the commission. The play will be the opening event of 14-18 Now, a four-year season of events funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to commemorate the War.

The play has been a long journey for Professor Morris, who first came across the story of the battle in 1997, when he found a book called Up to Mametz by Wyn Griffiths in a bargain bin for £3.40. Further research revealed that many writers and poets had witnessed and written about the same battle. At the time, Professor Morris was a series producer for BBC Wales and commissioned the then presenter Owen Sheers to visit Mametz Wood and make a short film about the ‘poets’ battle’.

Owen Sheers also returned from that first visit with a poem, called Mametz Wood, which is now studied by children across the UK as part of their GCSE English curriculum. For the past decade, Professor Morris has gathered research and read widely on the subject, and since 2012 has been working with Owen on developing a substantial Mametz project, which was taken on by National Theatre Wales.

Professor Morris Chris, who teaches documentary practice on the Newport-based Film course at the University of South Wales, is now the Creative Associate on the production of Mametz, working closely with both Owen Sheers and theatre director Matthew Dunster.

Visit the National Theatre Wales website where you can watch a film made by Professor Morris and Owen Sheers last summer, when they returned to Mametz Wood for research.

Mametz opens on Tuesday 24th June and will run until Saturday 5th July (except Sundays) at Great Llancayo Upper Wood, near Usk, NP15 1HS. Tickets cost £20 / £15 and will be available from 4th April at the Wales Millennium Centre box office on 029 2063 6464.

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