You may have noticed the posters and ads for a new type of theatre experience coming to Horsecross this month. Poignant and powerful, The 306: Dawn will be performed in a transformed barn at Dalcrue Farm, Pitcairngreen, in the Perthshire countryside.
The 306: Dawn is the first in a trilogy of new plays commemorating the First World War and the three hundred and six soldiers who were shot at dawn for cowardice or desertion.
The men. who were granted posthumous pardons by the Ministry of Defence in August 2005, were executed after refursing to serve or follow orders in battle; their names do not appear on any war memorials and it is hoped that this play will give them back their voices, stories and names.
As well as honouring the 306 men, the plays reflect the personal stories involved, as well as looking at how the war affected women, families, and communities on the home front.
The play was written by the celebrated Scottish-based writer Oliver Emanuel whose work for the National Theatre of Scotland includes Dragon (winner, Best Production for Families, UK Theatre Awards 2014) and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name.
The music for The 306 is composed by Gareth Williams, whose work has featured in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, St. Magnus Festival, Sound Festival and many more prestigious festivals.
Oliver explained that he and Gareth were looking at all the planned memorials for the First World War and that although the stories about bravery and sacrifice and heroism were powerful testimonies, it seemed as if there was something missing. What about those who failed to live up to this ideal?
When they found out about the 306 men shot for cowardice and desertion– and the story of their families and the hundred year campaign for their pardon – it was an instant connection. This story challenges what we think about the war and how we memorialise the dead.
The first part of the trilogy is set in France around time of the Battle of the Somme, marking the centenary of the battle. It follows the real-life stories of three soldiers on the front line:
Joseph Byers (17) from Glasgow. Too young to enlist, Joe, like so many at the time, has lied about his age to join the other men at the Front. However, his dreams of being a solider are quickly destroyed by the brutal realities of trench warfare and he soon finds himself in trouble with the authorities.
Private Harry Farr (25) from London. Traumatised by the things he has seen and lived through as a serving soldier, Harry is suffering from shell-shock and is now unable to fight. He has subsequently been convicted of cowardice and, as he waits to hear his fate, he dreams of his wife and hopes for a last minute reprieve.
Lance-Sergeant Joseph Willie Stones (24) from Durham. Having used his rifle to block the entrance to a trench during fierce fighting, Joseph stands accused of casting away his arms in combat - an offence punishable by death. He thought he was protecting his men, but the top brass want to make an example of him to maintain discipline in the ranks.
With a contemporary score performed live by the Red Note Ensemble, the songs explore the vulnerability and devastation of the battlefields, alongside the inner struggles of the men.
The decision to perform the play in a transformed barn, out in the countryside, reflects the stark and desolate nature of the executions and will almost certainly bring the bleakness and fear of these men to light.
The 306: Dawn is on from the 24th May until the 4th June and is being presented during the Perth Festival of the Arts. You are advised to be at Perth Concert Hall 60 minutes prior to show start time and from here you will get on a bus to the location at Pitcairngreen.
The show is just one of the World War 1 Centenray arts Exhibitions commissioned by 14 - 18 NOW, a programme of extraordinary arts experiences connecting us all with the First World War. They are also behind the Poppies : Weeping Window exhibition due to arrive at The Black Watch Castle and Museum this summer. More on Poppies : Weeping Window >>>
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