“I think the play offers positive images of the seductive side of women’s nature while acknowledging some of the irritation and even guilt that it may cause.”
So wrote Preston’s Peter Hartley about a play returning to the city after 22 years. It caused a debate in 1992 over how a woman’s attractiveness may have had a hand in the deaths of the men who volunteered to go to war.
A play that caused a stir in 1992 when presented in Preston returns to the stage in the city early next month.
Siren, by Uneasy Theatre, attracted the attention of the UCLan Women’s Movement when it was premiered at the university’s Arts Centre in August 1992.
Twenty-two years on, the play will be recreated at the Korova Arts Café on May 7-9.
The original production was scheduled for the university’s Women in Arts Week and the organisers pounced on the play as a target for debate because of an evocative depiction of one of the actresses on the original poster.
The play’s themes also explore issues arising from the traditional images of the mermaid or siren, and in this case specifically the German legend of the Lorelei who lured sailors to their deaths on the Rhine.
Siren charts the tale of an American airman based in the UK during the Second World War.
The story is told from the perspectives of the two women with whom he corresponded, one in the United States and the other in England.
When he fails to return from a mission over Germany, his letters from both women are returned to just one of them. The two meet up 20 years later.
Director and writer Pete Hartley said: “As usual with controversy like this, the post-show debate proved that the content of any play is much more complex than initial presumptions based on publicity materials can indicate.
“Siren does deal with some aspects of the dangerous nature of male/female attraction, but it also looks at how men and women can misinterpret that and how both can fall victim to it.
“It deals much more with what is perhaps an even more controversial topic – why do young men go to war so eagerly?
“Is it patriotism, or is that merely a front and are the real reasons much closer to home?
“Are they perhaps seeking the approval of those they’d like to impress?
“This is a pertinent topic as we commence the centenary commemoration of the First World War.
“The image presented to recruits in 1914 was considerably removed from the reality, as they soon discovered.
“Yet part of that recruitment was undoubtedly driven by those they knew at home.
“In some cases, white feathers signifying cowardice were publically handed to those who didn’t enlist.
“The pressure on young men must have been immense.
“The case of American forces during both world wars is especially interesting.
“Their home soil was not directly under threat – with the obvious exception of Pearl Harbor.
“Thousands lost their lives while fighting far from home, more than 400,000 in the Second World War.
“This play looks at one of them, and at how he confronts his biggest enemy of all – fear itself. The women play their part in his battle with that.”
Uneasy Theatre first performed Siren at the University of Central Lancashire Arts Centre in 1992, partly as a contribution to the Preston Guild fringe theatre schedule, and partly to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of US personnel to contribute to the air offensive against Nazi Germany.
Some 70 wars have taken place in the years between these two productions.
The two actresses, Anna O’Hanlon and Ann Whitlock, who played the central female roles in 1992, have returned to play their older counterparts in the 2014 production.
Anna said that returning to the play made her feel “strange and wonderful.
“I feel greater empathy for the character of Laura.
“In the past 20 years I’ve learned that life can be complicated and everyone makes mistakes.
“Hopefully, I can bring some of my experiences to the role.”
Ann said “I would say that coming back to Siren with 20 years more life experience has given it a whole new perspective for me; it’s almost like I’m playing Monica for the first time, which is a little surreal, but hugely enjoyable!”
Siren is at the Korova Arts Café Charnley Street, at 8pm. Tickets are £5.
More info at: www.uneasytheatre.co.uk.