Ruth Leon recommends… Into Battle – SlippediscSlippedisc

Norman Lebrecht

October 01, 2022

In the battle

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In the battle is a new play by Hugh Salmon that reveals the true story of Keith Rae and the Hon. Billy Grenfell who fought a ‘bitter feud’ at Oxford University in the years before World War I but was destined to die fighting side by side for the same regiment in the same battle the same day (July 30, 1915). It has been described as “Downton Abbey goes to war”.

In the battle unearths a true story buried for more than 100 years: a story revealing the political and social divisions that tore Britain apart at the start of the 20th century.

In 1906, of the fifty-three freshmen who went to Balliol College, Oxford University, eighteen had been educated at Eton. By 1910 they had formed an exclusive group, including future war poets, the Hon. Julian Grenfell and Patrick Shaw Stewart. Faced with the behavior of the Etonians, the socially conscious Keith Rae and England rugby international Ronald Poulton devoted themselves to improving the lives of the poor and hungry in the back streets of Oxford.

In 1912, the feud centered on Keith Rae and the Hon. Billy Grenfell on an individual level. After an incident between them, Billy is fired for a year, dishonouring his aristocratic mother Lady Ettie Desborough. To finish, In the battle reveals that the differences between Keith and Billy, and their fates, are resolved in the face of far greater adversity.

The piece takes its title “Into Battle” from a poem by Julian Grenfell that describes the inspiration a soldier can draw from nature in the quiet contemplative moments before battle. It was published posthumously and enjoyed great success during World War I.

“But the day will seize him with strong hands, and the night will wrap him in gentle wings.”

First produced at the Greenwich Theater in 2021, In the battle stars Gabriel Freilich as the Hon. Julian Grenfell, Nikolas Salmon as Billy Grenfell, Joe Gill as Keith Rae, Sam Barrett as Ronald Poulton and Molly Gaisford as Lady Ettie Desborough. It is directed by Ellie Jones.

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