Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Dawn of a New Run of Much-Loved Wartime Tragedy

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Dawn of a New Run of Much-Loved Wartime Tragedy

Article excerpt

Byline: David Whetstone Culture editor

PETER Mortimer's play Death at Dawn is back by popular demand and three cheers for that. It made more than ripples at last year's Journal Culture Awards (best newcomer for actress Heather Carroll) and in any case no good play about the First World War should be over by Christmas.

As the big audience at the 'Mem' (Wallsend Memorial Hall) indicated, there is still a fascination with the 'war to end war' and the 100th anniversaries are piling up like spent shell cases. Death At Dawn gives us gas, lice, 'over the top' and even a poet (Jamie Brown's Private Henry Stevens) - but few things become a cliche without being true and this play gives us something new to chew on.

It tells of "the life and death of North Shields soldier William Hunter", a man, I guess, who would not crave our sympathy.

The bald facts, as Morty says, are few. Hunter joined the Merchant Navy at the start of the war, jumped ship in Montreal, joined the Loyal North Lancs Regiment, deserted in 1915, was captured and imprisoned, escaped and was recaptured before being court-martialled and then shot by a firing squad drawn from his own battalion.

He kept mum in front of the 'top brass' but in his statement explained that "during this time I got in league with a young woman and I did not like to leave her".

Behind those 19 short words lies a volume of possibilities. Into the void steps the playwright with his imagination at full throttle.

The Hunter of the play, excellently performed (as indeed are all the characters) by Stephen Gregory, is not a quivering shellshock victim accused of cowardice.

He's a strapping Jack the Lad who likes the ladies, wouldn't shirk a fight and isn't about to be seduced into uniform by appeals to his patriotism. You might think he's a daft lad, making enemies of his colleagues-at-arms (notably Dylan Mortimer's Private White) and his platoon sergeant (Pip Chamberlin). …

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