Oliver Emanuel and Gareth Williams’ The 306: Dawn is the first part of a proposed trilogy telling the story of the 306 soldiers shot for desertion during the first world war. Proof of their cowardice was often tenuous, trials peremptory and the soldiers’ deaths more about making an example.
The piece is a fitting remembrance of injustices made a century ago. Becky Minto’s immersive set, fire-scorched chairs among raised stages, puts the audience at trench level, looking up over the top. A rifle silhouette motif, both weapon and instrument of dawn execution, dominates the found space, a rural barn lit with subtle realism by Simon Wilkinson.
Director Laurie Sansom has his nine-strong ensemble advance across the space, a sweep of humanity marching to Gareth Williams’ insistent, scurrying score, their voices raised in a lament that gives texture and drive to the particularities of the three individual stories.
Josef Davies conveys the complexities of shell-shocked Harry Farr as he awaits his death – visited by hallucinations of his wife Gertrude (Emily Byrt). Underage Joseph Byers is played with open-faced wonderment by Scott Gilmour as he seeks adventure but finds a frozen hell. And Joshua Miles is stoic and steady as Lance-Sergeant Willie Stones, whose heroism was interpreted as cowardice.
But it is the surrounding individuals who give this production its own texture: the firing squad sickened by their own actions, the well-meaning and ineffectual Prisoner’s Friend, the condemned soldiers’ own officers, unable to divert the path of the military machine.
Sansom, in his last act as artistic director at the National Theatre of Scotland, gets right under the skin of Emanuel and Williams’ musical play, building up their patchwork of scenes to give name to those who were shot, while providing a striking condemnation of the war machine.