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Somewhere A Gunner Fires, King’s Head Theatre, review: ‘Impressionistic and poetic with no wasted dialogue’

PUBLISHED: 18:12 12 February 2018 | UPDATED: 18:12 12 February 2018

Somewhere A Gunner Fires. Chris Born (Volker). Picture: Alex Brenner

Somewhere A Gunner Fires. Chris Born (Volker). Picture: Alex Brenner

(c) Alex Brenner

Playwright Tom Stutchfield tells the packed audience that the play is based on his discovery of correspondence written by his great grandfather, Spencer

Somewhere A Gunner Fires. Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes (Isabella) & Chris Born (Volker). Picture: Alex BrennerSomewhere A Gunner Fires. Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes (Isabella) & Chris Born (Volker). Picture: Alex Brenner

Before this extraordinary work starts, playwright Tom Stutchfield tells the packed audience, uncomfortably crammed into the Kings Head Theatre, that the play is based on his discovery of correspondence written by his great grandfather, Spencer. As the programme says: “Every word of it, apocryphal flavour aside, is true.”

On the dimly lit stage, six characters stand in line, all survivors through the Great War. For two hours they tell Spencer’s amazing story: first in the French Army then, much to the horror of his French sweetheart Mathilde (played with humour and pathos by Julia Kass), he joins the British Army for another crack at the Bosch.

He meets an old friend who has shell shock (Guy Clark’s sensitive but forensic Dixon) and hatches a plot to get him home. In a masterful piece of drama, Stuchfield draws together the elements of his tapestry to involve the newly over-there Yank (an angst filled Max Roberts) and the Austrian everyman figure Volker (played with care-worn passion by Chris Born).

The Hemmingway-esque narrative, impressionistic and poetic with no wasted dialogue and supported by fine sound and lighting work, rushes along in these two hours of theatrical magic.

There are liberal references to graphic and brutal deaths and mutilation, but tension is released in the relationship between poisson out of water Mathilde and Spencer’s sister (played as a London Hilda Baker by Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes). They live in Hendon, work in munitions and their dialogue is dry and sparky as they spar then accept the shared nightmare of the War.

Had this play debuted four years ago, by now it would be a West End must-see.

Runs until 24 February: kingsheadtheatre.com

Rating: 4/5 stars

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