St Peter's Village Hall, Beach Road, Paekākāriki

09/03/2019 - 09/03/2019

NZ Fringe Festival 2019

Production Details

The War Prayer was written by Mark Twain in objection to the idea of imperialism – using military force to gain influence over others – and in opposition to the Philippine-American War of 1899 – 1902. 

At the time of writing, The War Prayer was considered controversial and sacrilegious and Twain’s publisher thought it “not suited for the public to read.” 

As well as Raffills’ performance of the War Prayer poem, the concert also features a liberation theatre piece, some original songs and classic peace/anti war anthems, including Bob Dylan’s ‘With God On Our Side’, Buffy Saint Marie’s ‘Universal Soldier’, Graham Nash’s ‘Military Madness’ and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.

St Peter’s Village Hall, Beach Road, Paekakariki
Saturday 09 March 2019
General Admission $20.00
Fringe Addict $14.00

Theatre , Spoken word , Music ,

1 hr 30 min

Honesty, warmth and raw polemic in harmony

Review by John Anderson 11th Mar 2019

Stepping in to St Peter’s Village Hall you can feel the warmth of the wooden interior. Paekākāriki recently celebrated the hall’s centenary and the love and care given to it by the local community is palpable. There are abstract patterns projected up on the stage and a growing buzz from the forty or so people who’ve come in to see Mark Twain’s The War Prayer performed by Mark Rafills, and a selection of other performances on the theme of peace.

Mark Raffills affably kicks off the show drawing the audience in with good humour as he introduces the other performers. He neatly foreshadows the themes of peace, brevity of youth and whanau which bubble through the show with a personal poem called ‘All the Young Men’, remembering golden summers in Nelson with the air of a Kiwi bar room poet.

Katy Holland performs folk staple ‘Universal Soldier’ by Buffy Sainte-Marie with a lovely country lilt supported by Clayton Taylor on guitar. Andy Dolling dedicates the classic anti-war song ‘Green Fields of France’ by Eric Bogle to his great uncle Mike who died in France. He later performs another Eric Bogle number ‘All the Fine Young Men’.

Phill Simmonds (octave mandolin) and his sons Joe Simmonds (on bass) and Isaac Simmons (drums) set up a fine groove to his original ‘Watch the Fire’. His irrepressible joy of performing with his sons is touching.

Leigh Strange from Collingwood sings her original piece ‘Angels Mistaken’ in a gospel style and later follows with Bob Dylans’ ‘With God on our Side’. She also provides accompaniment to Katy and Clayton singing Dylan’s folk standard ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.

There is sparky banter throughout the performance and it feels like a jam session put on with love by a far flung family, with missteps and sentimentality, but also honesty and warmth. There are strong moments of intentional juxtaposition which enhance the depth of the show. For example the pleasant harmonies of Katy and Clayton’s performance of George Harrison’s ‘Give Me Love’ clash with the content of ‘Give Me Peace on Earth’ by Mark Raffills.

Mark Raffills introduces the background to Mark Twain’s The War Prayer. This historical artefact is what piqued my interest in reviewing the show. It is a prose poem written in 1905, believed to be a response to the fervour and war mongering he associated with both the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War where “in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism”.

It is a raw polemic and delivered powerfully by Mark Raffills. I really would have liked to hear his full delivery but, particularly at the beginning, the overly generic sound and visuals contest at times harshly with the performance. It is a relief when they are toned down as the poem progresses to its damning conclusion.

The concert segues into an ensemble rendition of ‘Imagine’ – John Lennon’s much loved socialist hymn. The audience ovation is loud and enthusiastic.

It’s not up to me as a reviewer to enumerate the many ways this could have been both broadened and deepened as an experience both in a local and global context, but I can’t help feeling that the artists have the skill and knowledge to deliver more here.

They have drawn together a program from their other projects and sometimes the hastiness shows. However there is a sense of friendship and aroha in their work and it will be interesting to see what the Peace Co-op will try next.

I’m still unravelling what it means to do such a performance of peace songs with the rage and rough fire of this poem by Mark Twain. I find my way to a nugget offered by Phill Simmonds: it is important for the mokopuna or young ones to hear adults express the value of peace and to condemn war. I find this is enough for me as I step on to the train with a head still full of thoughts. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council