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The three lads have much in common, including fishing, mustering on Mt. Ida, and fondness for blackberry jam. Two of them are even in love with the same girl. But when it came to enlisting for World War 1, their motives were very different. Jack signed up because he was conscripted; Sam because, despite his conscientious objection, he wanted to keep an eye on Jack; and Billy, just because he was Billy. Now, at Passchendaele, their futures will be determined.
Author Keith Scott directs, and has also worked on costumes and the multi-purpose set. Each of the eight actors (Ashley Stewart, Laith Bayan, Daniel Cromar, Brook Bray, Denise Casey, Maisie Thursfield, Lynne Keen and Emmett Hardie) has a big task in a long play, and all perform admirably. Notable are Bayan as Sam, conflicted in more ways than one, Bray as a brutal, war-damaged sergeant and Keen, dispensing calm and good sense, in contrast with the padre’s hollow assurances, as cafe owner Marie.
Songs performed by Bill Morris, accompanying himself on guitar, give the audience chances to reflect on what they are seeing. Bryan Byas’ lighting enhances the sense of time and place, and women’s costuming by Charmian Smith is beautifully detailed.
In the past few years Dunedin audiences have seen several plays about World War 1, most recently the touring Anzac Eve in April.
This latest one is an ambitious and horrifying look at what war does to people, and a strong antidote to illusions about its supposed glory and nobility. I can’t imagine anyone watching it remaining dry-eyed. Hard to watch though it may be, it is a powerful play on an important topic, and I recommend it.
1917: Until the Day Dawns
• Globe Theatre Friday, October 6