17th October 2019
Shaftesbury Arts Centre
Type of Production
Author: Sylvia Coates
This well-directed production kept the storyline clear and the characters bold: it was easy to follow and appealed strongly to young and old. The staging of blocks and an upstage dais, was simple but utilised well, so that scenes were transformed seamlessly and effectively, with minimal use of props. An attractive, well-made video was projected to depict an idyllic, countryside environment, and illustrating the child- hood friendship of Tommo, Charlie and Molly. The rear platform, with its fence and barbed wire was used extremely well: the parade of wounded men made a particular impact, being lit directly from above in a sombre, yellow light, reminiscent of mustard gas; haze or smoke added atmosphere to the trenches. The recruitment scene, with its bunting and women encouraging the men to join up, looked very patriotic. Music was well-chosen to cover the blackouts between scene changes. Sound effects were generally well-timed, well-positioned and apt. All costumes were in keeping: the ladies wore lace collars and long skirts; the Squire certainly looked the part; villagers were suitably rustic; soldiers were smart or scruffy as required.
Actors were age-appropriate, which lent an extra poignancy to the performance: the feeling that they were too young to be dressed as soldiers was in itself a powerful message. All the primary school pupils were full of childish energy and mischief, with Young Tommo and Young Charlie clearly setting up the story for their older counterparts; the bullying theme began strongly with Jimmy Parsons; and friendships between Tommo, Charlie, Young Molly, Young Nipper; and Young Pete were all established well, as they played traditional games and fought playground battles; in the Peaceful family household, ably and lovingly run by Mother it was soon clear that Charlie always took care of Tommo, and that everyone loved Big Joe, whose sensitive characterisation highlighted Joe’s personality and his vulnerability. We met all the village characters, including: a thoughtful and practical Squire; a strongly dictatorial Schoolmaster; a kindly Schoolmistress; the Recruiting Officer who was brisk and commanding.
As the action moved into war-time and older actors took over, the transition was smooth, with no disconnect between these and the younger cast. Charlie and Tommo were strongly-played, so that we understood the relationship between the brothers and felt Charlie’s sense of responsibility in taking care of Tommo, which he shouldered lightly and without resentment. Molly was bright, fresh and energetic; her letter speech was delivered naturally, completely in character. Tommo’s disappointment and discomfort at Charlie’s relationship with Molly was visible in his face; his voice conveyed strongly the tension and apprehension of the countdown. The brothers showed great enjoyment in sharing pleasure in the small things in life, in the trenches. Tommo’s relationship with Anna was sweet, with good facial and physical expression from each of them, and his grief at her death was plain, as was his anguish at the sound of shelling. Charlie’s description of the Court-Martial was so well-delivered that we could clearly imagine the events as they had happened. The belligerent and blinkered Sergeant Hanley was a character we could despise; the final meeting between Charlie and Tommo was touching. Pete’s outrage at Charlie’s deception at home was full of bitter passion.
In the final scene, as Tommo stood in a cone of light and haze, petals gently falling as Nimrod played, all the characters appeared onstage; the silence in the auditorium was absolute as the Fallen turned their backs and stood, until at last every character left the space. There was no curtain call, they didn’t return, which is, of course, entirely the point. A powerful and moving conclusion.
Congratulations to this very young and talented cast.