Shell-shocked audiences left emotionally drained by play

The play Death at Dawn – commissioned by the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration project – had its premiere performance on Monday in the Linskill Community Centre theatre.

Audiences are taken on an emotional rollercoaster in a brilliant staging of Peter Mortimer’s new play, written as part of the project’s wide-ranging programme of commemorative research and activity.

The inspired transition of the written work to a gripping stage play has been created by director Jackie Fielding using a sparse but intimate stage setting.

Performed ‘in the round’ the play puts the audience close to the action and holds them firmly focused on the story as it unfolds through a cleverly sequenced telling of the fictional drama the writer has built around the limited facts known about William Hunter and his short and tragic military life.

There were those involved in the project who questioned the appropriateness of devoting resources and effort to recounting the story of a man who, in the opinion of many even today, had been a flawed character who failed to match the patriotic resolve and self-sacrifice demonstrated by thousands of his fellow residents in North Shields.

When the project approached Peter Mortimer in 2009 to consider taking Hunter’s court martial records to create a dramatic recreation of his story, it was well understood the controversial nature of the subject matter, but despite his initial reluctance he was engaged with the limited facts revealed about his case.

Others outraged by the military’s use in the First World War of judicial executions for desertion and other military offences, had only two years earlier finally gained a blanket royal pardon for all 306 men executed during the war.

Fortunately for everyone, Peter relented and set off on what he has described as an emotionally charged journey as he considered the bare facts of the story and then created a fictional interpretation of how he imagined Hunter’s sad progress to the bleak abattoir in Mazingarbe near Loos in France, where he was executed on February 21, 1916

The play reflects many aspects of the policy of capital punishment and the effects of the trauma of service at the front, without being a historical courtroom drama.

Death at Dawn, telling the story of William Hunter, of Coronation Street in North Shields, runs until September 6 – 7.30pm and Saturday matinee 2.30pm.

Tickets (£10 and £8 concessions) can be bought from Linskill Community Centre reception; Keel Row Book Shop; North Shields Library (Discover section) and the project Information Centre in Front Street, Tynemouth, open daily until September 7, from 1pm until 4pm.

Telephone ticket bookings / purchase can be made through Linskill Community Centre, from 8am to 9pm, on (0191) 257 8000.

The project is reducing the opening hours of its Information Centre in Tynemouth to Saturdays and Sundays only from noon to 4pm

The popular talks in the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay, North Shields, will resume for the autumn on Tuesday, September 23, at 7.30pm, when Bill Midgley will consider another controversial aspect of the Great War – the treatment of conscientious objectors – those men who felt unable to participate in the prosecution of the war, whether on outright moral and ethical grounds e.g Quakers or because they did not support the reasons for the participation of Britain in the war.

For this talk no tickets are being issued and admission will be on a first come basis.

The project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more about the project or how to get involved.

The address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR. To access the database visit www.tynemouth worldwarone.org