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we’re here because we’re here

The National Theatre took part in 14-18 NOW’s UK-wide work by Jeremy Deller to commemorate the centenary of the Somme on 1 July 2016.

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we're here because we're here: soldiers in Glasgow

we’re here because we’re here

Hundreds of volunteers led by the National Theatre were part of a UK-wide event that took place on 1 July 2016, as a modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.   Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, the work was conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre.

The specially commissioned event saw around 1,500 voluntary participants dressed in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK. The National Theatre was one of 27 organisations which collaborated on the work, called ‘we’re here because we’re here’. It was produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the National Theatre, working in close collaboration with partners including: Lyric Theatre Belfast, Manchester Royal Exchange, National Theatre of Scotland, National Theatre Wales, Northern Stage, Playhouse Derry-Londonderry, Salisbury Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres and Theatre Royal Plymouth.

The men who walked the streets today were a reminder of the 19,240 men who were killed on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed that day. The work is partly inspired by tales of sightings during and after the First World War by people who believed they had seen a dead loved one.

The participants wore historically accurate uniforms, representing 15 of the regiments that suffered losses in the first day of the Battle. The soldiers did not speak, but at points throughout the day would sing the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, which was sung in the trenches during the First World War. They handed out cards to members of the public with the name and regiment of the soldier they represented, and, where known, the age of the soldier when he died on 1 July 1916.

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The day long work ran from 7am to 7pm and covered the length and breadth of the UK, from Shetland to Penzance.  Sites they visited included shopping centres, train stations, car parks and high streets – taking the memorial to contemporary Britain and bringing an intervention into people’s daily lives where it was least expected.

The volunteers were men aged between 16-52, reflecting the men who would have fought in the Somme. They were not trained actors but came from a range of professions, including a sheep farmer, flight attendant, doctor, lawyer, social worker, shop assistant, portrait artist and GCSE student. They came together to rehearse in theatres across the UK over a month-long period in the run-up to the performance.  ‘we’re here because we’re here’ is one of the largest arts participation projects ever staged in the UK, with hundreds of additional volunteers working behind the scenes.

The project was supported by: Aberystwyth Arts Centre, The Belgrade Theatre, Bolton Octagon, Bristol Old Vic, Storyhouse, Left Coast, Leicester Curve, Nuffield Theatre, Oldham Coliseum, Pontio, Shetland Arts, Sutton Coldfield College BMet, The Artrix Bromsgrove, The Garrick Lichfield and Volcano.

‘we’re here because we’re here’ was made possible by an Ambition for Excellence Award from Arts Council England, with additional support from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Creative Scotland and Art Fund. 14-18 NOW is principally funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, and by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

 

Image of soldiers in Glasgow by Eoin Carey

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