Any fresh attempts to bring the horrors of the First World War to life have to work hard to stand out among the current barrage of programming and events marking the centenary of its outbreak. And on stage, they have to work even harder to escape the long shadow of an infantry of indelible productions from Oh, What a Lovely War! to War Horse.
But Helen Newall’s neatly devised and staged play with music, first performed in 2008 and bolstered by a large, stirring onstage choir, is a credible addition to this growing battalion. It touchingly but unsentimentally recounts the events leading up to the Christmas Eve truce of 1914 through the eyes of soldiers from the Cheshire Regiment. It also attempts to present a potted history of the causes of the war, starting with the catalytic Sarajevo assassination. This is useful for visiting school parties but the play is much better when portraying the micro human drama of the soldiers’ experience, from the excitement of sign-up to the, in turns, plodding and perilous reality of life in the trenches, all evocatively described in Newall’s writing.
The exact details of the ceasefire, from the exchange of gifts to the Christmas Day kickabout, have passed into legend, but the production plays them all out with an unquestioningly straight bat. This is helped by a talented, multitasking cast that is completely committed to the material, with the central trio of Rhys Isaac-Jones, Hannah Good and Aled Bidder managing to paint effective and affecting characterisations amid the swiftly played vignettes.
- The Brindley, Runcorn
- November 4, PN November 4, then touring until December 7
- Author: Helen Newall
- Director: Emma Lucia
- Design: Judith Croft set/costume, Nick Beadle lighting
- Musical director/composer: Matt Baker
- Technical: Peter Lea stage manager, Helen Newall multimedia
- Cast: Aled Bidder, Hannah Good, Rhys Isaac-Jones, Tom Lincoln
- Producers: Theatre in the Quarter, Claire Smith
- Running time: 1hr 45mins