Friday, 10 October 2014

Early One Morning @ Bolton Octagon, 09.10.14

Early One Morning, from writer Les Smith, tells the tale of a boy from Bolton who was shot for desertion during the first world war. Put like this it sounds simple, but beyond these bare facts lies a complicated and complex story...

...Private James Smith (Michael Shelford) is a broken soldier who can no longer cope with the constant bombardment of bombs, orders and trauma. In desperation he tries to walk back to Bolton only to be caught, courtmartialed and sentenced to be shot at dawn. His comrades are asked to organise and carry out the killing, causing them to question the morality and sanity of their situation. Meticulously researched and poignantly provoking, Smith's script - first performed in 1998 - cuts back and forth between Bolton and Passchendaele, providing a desperate glimpse of what life for a WW1 soldier was like.

The cast showed class in dealing with this serious and sensitive material, drawing out emotional performances without straying into sentimentality. As Private Smith Michael Shelford successfully captured the essence of a man facing his own mortality, moving this reviewer to tears at the show's end. Colin Connor, in the role of Sergeant Fielding, brilliantly expressed the strain of giving out difficult orders, his voice full of cracked emotion, while Jessica Baglow was warm, gentle and engaging as Smith's sweetheart Lizzie Cartwright.

With this play Director David Thacker demonstrates once again why he is so well regarded, creating a controlled framework in which the chaos of war could be shown. His decision to make the set out of actual mud, and to split the action over multiple levels in the theatre, brought the audience right into the trenches with the actors. Jason Taylor's clever lighting created spaces within spaces, the wonderful period costumes from Mary Horan added further authenticity, while the demonic rumbling of Andy Smith's soundscape provided a disturbing undercurrent; this was a production team working in harmony to create something special.

Early One Morning exposes the meaningless, blistering, brutal destruction of war, where humans are pulled apart into ligaments and bones, where all sense of whole, all sense of humanity, is lost. We need theatre like this to show us the mistakes of our collective past, and to remind us that such horror must never be repeated.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Images: Ian Tilton

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