First published in The Times, Monday October 15 2018
Each instalment in Oliver Emanuel’s trilogy exploring the forgotten voices of the First World War has felt distinctive, both in focus and atmosphere. Indeed, this concluding part, Dusk, is the only one of the sequence to be staged in a traditional proscenium-arch theatre. Dawn, which reimagined the stories of three young men shot for cowardice or desertion, took place in a converted barn on a Perthshire farm, while Day, which gave voice to women munitions workers and suffragettes, premiered in a room in the city’s Station Hotel.
Dusk finds the playwright drawing together the various threads from the series and attempting to build a thematic bridge between the horrors of the Great War and now. He does this beautifully by intertwining the stories of Private Louis Harris (Danny Hughes), a British soldier shot for desertion a mere four days before armistice, and Keith (Ryan Fletcher), a veteran of the Iraq war who descends into alcoholism and violence when he returns to civilian life.
Pic: Drew Farrell
Through this pair of monologues Emanuel makes an important point about remembrance as we approach the centenary of the end of the war. Commemorating the loss of life in historical wars is only really of value if we avoid making the same mistakes again. The medals Keith wears at the Battle of the Somme commemoration look grotesque when set against the knowledge that the traumatised veteran has violently beaten his partner.
Alongside these two powerful accounts, a third strand involving a pregnant schoolteacher, Rachel (Sarah Kameela Impey), who has call to reminisce about her grandfather’s contribution to the war while on a school trip to the Western Front, feels shoehorned in. The three stories come together somewhat awkwardly in a ghostly encounter in the woods near the battlefield.
Pic: Drew Farrell
Like the other entries in the trilogy, all of which have been commissioned by 14-18 Now in partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland and Horsecross Arts, music is an integral part of Wils Wilson’s handsome, well-choreographed production. A five-strong instrumental ensemble performs Gareth Williams’s rich score throughout, with occasional interventions from a 20-strong choir.
The phenomenon, familiar from the first two plays, of the characters singing their lines at certain points, does not always feel merited, but there is no denying the emotional potency of the finale, in which the entire ensemble recites the names of the 306 soldiers shot for cowardice or desertion during the First World War as their names appear on the back wall. It feels like a fitting tribute as well as a powerful way to conclude a heartfelt project.