This week I went to see Death at Dawn. The plot followed a young ‘Geordie Toe-Rag,’ William Hunter, falling in love (multiple times) and enlisting in the army. Hunter, along with his platoon, demonstrate the physical and emotional hardships of war as their friendships get stronger as the war rages on.
Hunter (Stephen Gregory) was a strong lead. He offered the audience a very real and authentic performance. What I found most impressive was the sheer desperation that covered his face in the very small instance when he realised that his very own firing squad was made up of his friends. I was particularly impressed with Jamie Brown, who played Private Stevens. This cheeky Scouser had the audience in stitches before bringing them to their knees in the closing scenes of the performance. Dean Logan- Smiley- was breath-taking. Starting out as an optimistic, Liverpudlian lad, we follow Smiley’s dissent into shell-shock. Smiley was treated brutally by his sergeant, making the audience flinch, but due to Logan’s sheer commitment to the role I could not look away. A lot of the actors played multiple roles, including Heather Carroll who played every female character within the play.
The most prominent feature of Death at Dawn was the use of sound. During scene transitions there would often be the sound of screaming or bombs dropping. This filled the silence but also continued to set the scene all throughout the evening. The soldiers would break out into songs that were notorious for soldiers during war time, these songs created a very still atmosphere from the audience. It left me speechless. The stage was set up in the round, we could see the stage from all angles and the actors could see us. It was a very intense set up, but it worked for a show like this. The closeness of the actors and the audience was needed to feel the raw emotion of the trenches.
At the end of the performance the audience broke into a very slow applause, as if everyone was absolutely stunned. The ending brought tears to my eyes and I couldn’t have asked for any more from a performance about the war. The only way to describe it would be brutally hilarious and heart-wrenchingly sad.