by Alan M Kent.
Tour to 22 July 2011.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 June at Pleasance Theatre Islington.
Cornwall invaded by war in a play that speaks to its homeland.
Two tin miners find themselves dragooned, together with their boss, into The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Manager become officer William Tresawna has drilled for years in the Cornish countryside. Of the privates, 27-year old Jimmy Tamblyn is a cheeky spark who joins-up in 1914 when sacked by Tresawna. 15-year old John Henry Pascoe enlists largely because he’s always worked alongside Jimmy.
Playwright Alan M Kent spends a long time getting them to the Flanders Front, establishing the Cornish setting – home to co-producers BishBashBosh and Iron Shoes. Journalist Robert Walling learns the Cornish language, to the disgust of senior secretary Mrs Slattery. Sent to report from the Front, Walling expresses hopes for peace in Cornish.
Linguistic and cultural roots are important in Kent’s pay, but they’re traduced by recruiting promises of advancement in the Regiment for any true-born Cornishman. Once he’s inveigled himself, underage, to the Front John Henry suffers shellshock. In a dramatic jump-cut the first scene in Flanders shows him shot on Tresawna’s orders for desertion. The scene, replayed later, resonates through the act.
Tamblyn’s dismissal from the mine wasn’t for insolence, but for dangerous use of dynamite down the shaft. Tresawna’s tolerance of Tamblyn’s insolence contrasts his determined carrying-out of Pascoe’s execution as the war’s grip tightens.
That earlier dynamite prefigures the war-machinery, which otherwise is tinged with comedy – Walling in his gas-mask, Tamblyn’s earth-shaking liaison with a Belgian prostitute.
Touring its native area, or village halls, the show’s informal elements, the glances towards the audience and humour will create a sympathy less evident amid the expectations of a London theatre. Even so, there’s no avoiding the infectious humour of Dean Nolan’s outsize person – one to block a mine-shaft – and personality as Jimmy, or the contrastingly trusting, diminutive John Henry of Toby Nicholas, youthfully hopeful in Cornwall, fearfully seeking protection in his friend at war.
There’s some unevenness in the acting, though Molly Weaver well-represents early 20th, and 21st century, women. And there’s admirable small-scale spectacle when the title’s brought to life, while a candle handed between generations is quietly touching – wherever it’s played.
Maisie Pascoe/Rose Pascoe/Mrs Slattery/Michelle Méhauté/Girl: Molly Weaver.
John Henry Pascoe: Toby Nicholas.
Cap’n William Tresawna: Trevor Cuthbertson.
Robert Walling/Joseph Hocking/ommanding Officer/Christiaan van der Riet/Jack Polmassick: Ed Williams.
Jimmy Tamblyn: Dean Nolan.
Director: John Hoggarth.
Music: The People’s String Foundation.
Costume: Pam Verran.
Associate director: Ria Parry.