REVIEW: First Light at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Family life and the battlefield collide in this First World War drama. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Family life and the battlefield collide in this First World War drama. Picture: Manuel Harlan
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In the centenary year of the Battle of the Somme, there will be the inevitable influx of art from around the country to commemorate the event.

But Chichester’s offering, a new play by award-winning writer Mark Hayhurst, is sure to be among the most affecting.

David Moorst and Tom Gill shine bright in First Light. Picture: Manuel Harlan

David Moorst and Tom Gill shine bright in First Light. Picture: Manuel Harlan

And the reason for its success is that it shifts focus away from the often-dramatised exploits of the men on the front line to those who ran away from their duty in the face of death, and manages to make us sympathise with them.

It strips away the glorification of the war and leaves the audience with the stark reality of the conflict: the dead, and families torn apart by their passing.

The story revolves around Albert Ingham, a young man thrust into the horrors of the trenches, and his father George, who is hellbent on exposing the truth of his son’s fate after the war has ended.

The structure of the play serves the storytelling perfectly: the overlapping trajectories of Bert and George creates plenty of dramatic tension as seemingly trifling details in the historic present are exploded by revelations in the past.

All the horrifying moments in the play are carried out onstage, which makes for some very uncomfortable viewing by the second half

The show takes its cue from George’s mission to expose the truth – all the horrifying moments in the play are carried out onstage, which makes for some very uncomfortable viewing by the second half.

The emotional effect of these scenes is a testament to the acting of the play’s central double-act: Bert and his friend and fellow soldier Alfred Longshaw.

In the latter, showier role, David Moorst flexes his acting muscle, demonstrating a keen tongue for accents along the way. But Tom Gill eventually steals the show from his comrade after a devastating monologue where Bert speaks of his father in the face of insurmountable odds.

The blurring of domestic life and the battlefield is visually realised by the ensemble carrying living room props over the top of the trenches during set changes, an example of the visual flair of this production.

As one of two plays based on the First World War at the Festival Theatre right now you’re spoilt for choice.

But having seen both, this production at the smaller Minerva Theatre comes out on top by a country mile – so remember size doesn’t matter when choosing which venue to visit.

Until July 2.