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So Much Is Crammed Into Moving First World War Play
Rarely can something of the magnitude and scale of a world war be encapsulated in less than an hour. But that is certainly what author Ross Ericson has achieved in his moving one-man play called The Unknown Soldier which deals with the aftermath of the First World War.
A glimpse of life in the trenches in WW1. By John Warwick Brooke - This is photograph Q 3990 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 1900-13), Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=116369
The play, which was performed at the Lichfield Garrick theatre on November 8, lasts a mere 50 minutes. But, thanks to the skill of Mr Ericson, who also acts in the production himself, the audience was left well and truly moved by the dialogue being delivered on stage. And, in a clever twist, the production also gives an interesting theory as to the occupant of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in London. By Mike from England - Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, CC BY-SA 2.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18443245
The setting is a former World War One battlefield in France exactly two years to the day since the signing of the Armistice which silenced the guns for the final time. But while virtually everyone else on both sides of the bloody conflict has gone home, army sergeant Jack is one of a small number of British troops tasked with searching the battlefield for the bodies of British soldiers left behind so their deaths can be registered and their loved ones notified.
Ross Ericson stars in his play, The Unknown Soldier
The play certainly pulls no punches in describing the grim nature of the work, both in finding the bodies, or parts thereof, but also having to search their pockets for any clues as to their identity. But Jack has a hidden motive for searching the abandoned trenches, bomb craters and rusting barbed wire for the boys that died in battle - he also has to try and keep a promise that he made to Tom, a former school friend and comrade in arms who was one of the millions who failed to make it to the end of the war.
The first day of the Somme in July 1916. By Royal Engineers No 1 Printing Company. - This is photograph Q 1 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 1900-02), Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=511694
Ross delivers his lines in the Garrick's intimate studio theatre as if talking to his fallen comrade. He does so as he returns to his billet following a day spent looking for bodies on the still muddy, stinking battlefield. But his daily routine is briefly shattered when he suddenly recalls the sheer panic of heavy shelling, followed by a fierce attack on the British trenches.
Despite the obvious grim nature of The Unknown Soldier, which is produced by Grist to the Mill Productions - of which Ross Ericson is one of the founders - the play also has its humorous moments such as describing a fellow soldier's encounter with a roast duck. The Unknown Soldier, which enjoyed its première at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015, is now going on the road throughout 2017 and 2018 to coincide with the centenary of the First World War.
Thursday 10 Nov Old Well Theatre, Moffat 7.30pm
Friday 11 Nov The Swallow Theatre, Newtown Stewart 3pm
Saturday 12 Nov Bridge House Theatre, Penge 2pm & 7.30pm