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The Window

The Studio

The Herbert art gallery and Museum and on tour


Conor Nolan and Corinne Emerson star in The Window which is an evocative and intensely personal story of James O’Neil who was born behind the weaver’s House in Coventry in August 1892 and fought and died in the military and political disaster that was supposed to end all wars.

O'Neil was the great uncle of  the writer and director of the piece, Paul Nolan.Writing this on the 100 anniversary of Armistice day after a moving service in the War Memorial Park in Coventry adds an additional layer to this already moving tribute to a family that became involved in life-changing and life-limiting events that ultimately cost the lives of millions including James himself.

 The Window, which really refers to the stained glass in All Souls, Earlsdon, might equally refer to a window on the past, but also to how events can be viewed from either side and this clever idea is reflected in the staging.

James O'Neil

Conor Nolan as James O'Neil. Picture: Robert Wilkinson

At The Herbert Studio, which is not normally a theatre space, the audience is positioned on two sides where necessarily the view provided for each is radically different. The centre space between the rows facing each other provides the ‘stage’ which is used for Conor Nolan’s energetic performance but could also be the trench which he spends many muddy hours learning to dig and even more muddy hours sheltering in the onslaught from ‘Fritz’s’ guns and where a sniper takes his life in November 1915.

To complete the family connection, Conor is Paul Nolan's actor son, playing O'Neil, his great, great uncle.

The use of historical photographic backdrops adds to a useful and welcome sense of context, and there is humour, particularly in the early part of the play, as the family of five children set off on the train to Blackpool for the day, then James’ excitement at joining up and certainty that it will be ‘all over by Christmas’ but ultimately there is sadness.

Corinne’s contribution as his eldest sister Ivy brings the view from the home front, where censored letters from James home give her enough to know that things are not good. James’ vivid dreams, with ghostly visits from his lost father, build up our hopes that he is going to be one to the lucky ones who return to the ‘land fit for heroes’.

There were many children in the audience and that is always good to see. It was also clear that other audience members enjoyed the performance and were captivated by the story-telling and performances.

Jane Howard


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