In this episode…

Portrait of Emma Jenkins

Meet the Characters

Emma Jenkins

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Private John Ball: Private Ball is the hero of our drama. He is loosely autobiographical and David Jones always said, when asked, that everything that happened to Private Ball in In Parenthesis happened to him, David Jones. In the opera, as in the poem, he is a young man of around 18 or 19 and, as we see from the very outset, he is grotesquely unsuited to life as a soldier. Not only is he a clumsy amateur, he is also prone to sudden hallucinations which transport him, viscerally, to other worlds and imagined dimensions. In his visions, his companions might suddenly morph into hunting dogs, or men at Crecy or Arthur’s Knights seeking the Grail. As the story unfolds, his visions become more intense and frequent to the point that they infect everyone else in the drama.

Bard of Britannia: This character is one which does not feature in the original poem, but which we have created as a male narrative voice which both drives the action of the drama as well as participates in it. The Bard of Britannia rather like a Time Lord who is able to traverse worlds and who propels the characters towards the inevitable fate at Mametz Wood.

Bard of Germania: She is the female counterpart of the Bard of Britannia
working. Together they form the link between the real world of war and
the mythical world of legend and fantasy that the soldiers unwittingly
find themselves slipping between. She is very much the emotional voice
of the drama; an embodiment of feminine energy and the natural world.

Mr. Piers Dorian Isembard Jenkins: A young man of 20; Mr. Jenkins is a lieutenant in charge of the platoon. He is Welsh, although he would have been educated at English public school. Tall, blond and charismatic, yet also extremely sensitive and vulnerable. He cares deeply about his men and is sympathetic to Private Ball and has an instinctive understanding of the strange visions which assail himl. He is acutely aware of the burden of command and responsibility that he must carry. His beauty and heroism become almost talismanic to Ball and the other men.  

Lance Corporal Andiron Merddyn Lewis: A young man in his 20’s and also John Ball’s best friend. The relationship between these two men deepens as the drama unfolds. Like Ball, Lewis is a man who is able to see through the ordinary and into the extraordinary. He is passionate about his Welsh ancestry and believes that he can touch the minds of his forefathers and warriors of the past. His ability to straddle the realms of myth and reality, allows him to understand Ball in a way that no one else can.

Dai Great Coat: Dai is an old Welsh soldier who has seen many conflicts before this one.  He takes on a kind of legendary quality in the minds of the other men. No one can say quite how ancient he is, but if Dai is to believed, he was even there at the crucifixion of Christ. He is a Welsh hero along the lines of Llewellyn the Great, Owen Glendower or the warriors of Y Gododdin. He takes John Ball under his wing and nurtures his spiritual, mystical qualities.

Sergeant Snell: Snell is a typical bully of a sergeant. Brutish, ignorant and with a particular dislike of John Ball and his sensitive nature. He clearly has a chip on his shoulder as a result of being a non-commissioned officer and not from the educated classes like Jenkins. He shouts and barks but, like all bullies, he is ultimately revealed as cowardly and fearful.

Private Watcyn and Private Wastebottom: These are two very young soldiers; one a Cockney, the other a Welshman. The fact that these 2 races were yoked together during this conflict had a huge significance for David Jones. Though so different in many ways, Jones always felt that Cockneys and Welshmen shared a sense of mystery and poetry. Watcyn and Wastebottom are a pair of cheeky chappies whose good humour and earthiness lightens the mood for all the other men in the platoon. For them, the war is a great big adventure right up to the last. Their banter and wit in the trenches allows the others to find lightness even during the darkest times.

The Marne Sergeant: Another old soldier who the platoon first meet when they enter the trenches. He has been at the front for so long, he has become one with the mud and water and appears more like a troglodyte or troll than a human being. He is softly spoken and kind, in stark contrast to his apocalyptic appearance.

The Queen of the Woods: this character is played by the same singer as the Bard of Germania and is the spirit of Mametz Wood itself.  She is both the destroyer of worlds and the redeemer of souls. She is very much the embodiment of the two sides of the feminine force: on the one hand she is 'Sweet Sister Death' who lurks in the wood slaying the men. On the other hand she is the Queen of Heaven, promising redemption and rebirth for every man who died on these fields.

The Chorus of Remembrance: will be played by the WNO Ladies Chorus. They are rather like a Greek Chorus and are strongly connected to the two Bards. Like the Bards, they both tell the story and participate in it. They traverse the two worlds that John Ball crosses between and can see into the future and the past.

Chorus of Dryads: These are the minions of the Queen of the Woods. They are her handmaidens and, at the end of the opera, when all lie dead, they preside over the regeneration of the wood and the rebirth of the men. They are the beneficent force of feminine redemption.

Platoon Chorus: The Platoon will be played by the WNO Gentlemen’s Chorus. These are John Balls’ companions in war who share in this incredible journey into the Wasteland. They begin the odyssey as inexperienced amateurs and end it as legends in their own right; heroes who have merged with their warrior ancestors from ages past and become immortalised in the spirit of the Wood itself.

Costume designs by Robert Innes Hopkins

In Parenthesis audio