THE strapline of Peter Mortimer’s new play, commissioned by the excellent Tynemouth WW1 Commemoration Project, is:
"You can order men to kill… you cannot order them to love".
The play – a poetic commentary on war and love – is inspired by a young North Shields man, William Hunter, who was one of 300 soldiers shot by the British Army during the First World War. It is an excellent mix of fact and fiction. The dialogue between the sharply written characters, crackles throughout. Hunter (Stephen Gregory), White (Jim English), Stevens (Jamie Brown), Smiley (Dean Logan), Sergeant (Matthew Curnier) and four platoon soldiers, draw us into the horror of trench warfare and the complex emotional and psychological relationships that develop between them.
Heather Carroll superbly plays a number of different young women who cross Hunter’s path – my favourite is the dynamic Claudette, who helps him understand – too late – who he is and what he wants from life.
Hunter is a Jack-the-lad, attractive to women and attracted by them, who ends up in the platoon against his wishes but develops a strong friendship with Stevens, the poet of the platoon. At the end of the play, in a moving scene, Stevens has to tell Hunter’s mother (well played by Diane Legge) that her son was shot at dawn for desertion and that he fired one of the guns.
Jackie Fielding’s direction is impeccable, fast moving, innovative and choreographed with great precision. Acting performances are strong throughout, including the non-professional lads (Alex Broadbent, James Gebbie, Robert Wilson and Will Middlemass) who more than hold their own. This production deserves to be seen further afield.
Death at Dawn runs until Saturday, 7.30 pm nightly, plus matinee, Saturday 2.30pm Box Office: 0191-2578000 or tynemouthworldwarone.org