July’s ‘thing to do’ sort of fell into my lap. I’d entered a competition for tickets to a Somme exhibition at Palace Green in Durham. In a nutshell, they forgot all about me, so to make it up, also gave me complimentary tickets to see their Gala show ‘1916: No Turning Back’. As I’ve not experienced a ‘walk-through’ theatre performance before, I thought I’d incorporate it into the blog.
In a group of about 20, we were escorted into a dark room with various scenes set out. We stood in front of the first and were greeted with our first of two actors in this performance. In it, we follow the life of a WWI soldier, Simon Taylor from enlisting with his friends in a ‘pals battalion’ to training, to life in the trenches to going ‘over the top’ during the Battle of the Somme.
You physically walk to each scene (escorted by a member of the theatre staff) and have it play out in front of you. Occasionally they had little touches for the kids, like putting soldier hats on them or involving them in the dialogue, all whilst staying in character.
After we follow Simon, we’re shown the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) side of things, with a character of a nurse explaining what they do. Finally, on to the relative of a soldier who returned from the war and struggled to readjust.
From what I can gather, the show has 4 actors, two men and two women, who alternate days/performances. Whichever duo you see, they play every part, popping behind scenery for a quick costume change and changing their accents where appropriate.
The actors, Lawrence Neale (plays Simon Taylor & Jack Cotton) and Sam Neale (plays a nurse and a soldier’s relative) were faultless. They were thoroughly believable as each character they played, engaging and charming. It was a short show (around 40 minutes) but in that time they created a bond with the audience.
Oh god the set design, the set design!! It was fantastic. All the seats had been removed from the theatre and the set takes over the full room. They’d built a trench! A TRENCH! Part of the performance is inside – the audience sits along the sides and we were lit only by Taylor’s lamp before being subjected to an earsplitting barrage from the Germans, complete with smoke pumped into the trench for effect – fantastic.
I think the show is a huge success and I’m so glad we won tickets because it’s probably not the kind of thing I’d have chosen to do, with not knowing exactly what it entailed. The only thing I’d change about it (and this is just because it’s the kind of work we’re involved in, so I tend to think like this) is I’d have changed the order of things slightly, to have it ending with Taylor going over the top. Having said that, I can understand why they had it the way they did and it certainly doesn’t take away from how brilliant it was.
When we left, we were each given a little commemorative badge to remember the event – I thought that was a really nice touch.
1916: No Turning Back is on at the Gala Theatre in Durham until the 28th August 2016.