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Review: Somewhere a Gunner Fires, at King’s Head Theatre

First World War play based on accounts from writer’s great-grandfather packs a powerful punch

16 February, 2018 — By Michael Stewart

Chris Born in Somewhere a Gunner Fires. Photo: Alex Brenner

IT is the First World War and we are at the Italian front as six characters confront the audience at the King’s Head.

They stand in line on a dimly lit stage and recount their experiences of this horrific conflict. They stand almost motionless as if they are a line-up waiting for a firing squad, each actor exploding into life when the spotlight highlights them and when it fades and dies they too become stage corpses.

They face the audience as if facing the music. Their impassioned words fly and ricochet off each other like crazy shrapnel but the actors rarely even physically touch each other. Ironically, this is a war of words not action.

Writer, director and actor Tom Stuchfield has based this piece on written accounts by his great-grandfather Spencer (played impressively by Stuchfield himself). Julia Kass plays his witty, sarcastic French girlfriend Mathilde superbly. Her accent is spot-on and her verbal jibes (many directed at Spencer’s sister Isabella, played by Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes) bring a welcome touch of humour to the affair.

The rest of the team is made up of an Austrian soldier called Volker (a live-wire Chris Born), Wilkinson, an American who it seems would rather fight his battles with the booze rather than the Boche (Max Roberts), and sensitive Dixon (Guy Clark), a lover of nature. A seventh presence is Johannes Ruckstuhl’s excellent sound design which hits home the theatre of war.

The play’s verbal bias at the expense of the visual would predispose it to radio adaptation and it’s about half an hour too long, but it packs a powerful punch nonetheless. It makes more than a fitting tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Great War’s ceasefire in 1918.

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