23rd Oct, 2020

Norbury Theatre joins forces with the Royal British Legion for poignant tribute to First World War

DROITWICH’S Norbury Theatre is staging poignant production Journey’s End to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

The piece by RC Sherriff, a captain in The Great War, takes place in a dugout in the trenches from March 18 to 21, 1918.

It is the run-up to the German offensive ‘Operation Michael’ and the occurrences in Journey’s End are based on real-life events and real characters of the time.

Director Melanie Brown said planning for the show had taken more than 12 months which was much longer than usual.

“I cast it this time last year so people could learn the script.

“I needed to know who I was going to have in what roles so I could get the uniforms and make sure everything was right.

“The centenary of the First World War is a big occasion and we wanted the show to match it.”

Mel wanted an authentic looking set, not ‘a flat one with painted walls’.

The dugout sides have come from various places, including the side of a shed someone donated and ‘sandbags’ from a theatre group in the Peak District.

The roof, the most intricate part of the set, was created by experienced designer John Ellam for a Journey’s End production in Kenilworth.

John, 78, joined the Talisman Theatre in 1971 and this is his 110th set.

“Every one is completely different and I get a similar buzz to the director and the actors when I see my set on stage.”

Representatives from the Norbury visited John to see a model of the set and how it worked.

“I make a model and try it out in miniature first and then we recreate it on the stage.”

John built the roof using lightweight insulation boards, painted to resemble wooden planks, connected to a cross beam, enabling them to fall.

The set comes into its own in the climactic scenes where, along with pyrotechnic explosions and smoke, the effect is breathtaking.

“It’s an amazing ending to a production which literally shocks the audience.

“It is very emotional – there were even a few tears,” said John.

As well as researching what life in the trenches was like, the cast has also been researching any relatives who fought in The Great War.

Mel said many members had found relatives who had fought in the First World War.

She discovered her great uncle was involved and her husband Andy discovered his great granddad had fought.

There are also some family connections in the cast – Mel’s son Matthew Jeffrey is in the line-up and there are also two fathers and sons – Chris and John Broad and James and Ollie Cowlishaw.

Keith Thompson plays Osborne, the same character he played eight years ago at The Swan in Worcester.

“Osborne is a teacher who heads to Sandringham to do his bit for the war effort and acts as a father figure in the trenches to the young soldiers.

“When I first played the part the two lead characters were about the age of my two sons so that really brought home the reality of the young lads who were fighting.

“And when I picked the script up again it took me right back to the last time I played the role.

“The chance to do it again was just to good an opportunity to pass up.”

Journey’s End runs from Thursday to Saturday, November 1 to 3, and again the following week from November 8 to 11. All performances start at 7.30pm apart from the last one which is at 4pm.

The Norbury production has also been staged in partnership with the Royal British Legion and for a donation to the RBL, viewers can write names of relatives or messages on a poppy and each night there will be a ‘poppy drop’.

Pictures and war records of some of the soldiers from Droitwich who fought in The Great War will form a display in the foyer and veterans, servicemen and women have been invited to the final performance which, fittingly, is on Armistice Day.

Visit norburytheatre.co.uk or call 01905 770154 for tickets and more information.

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