THE 306: DAWN
DALCRUE FARM, PERTHSHIRE
Review by Mark Brown
The National Theatre of Scotland (currently celebrating its 10th anniversary) has always prided itself on its ability to make theatre in unconventional spaces. Its famous Iraq War play, Black Watch, for example, premiered in an army drill hall.
The company’s latest production, The 306: Dawn, is another attempt at large scale event theatre. Presented in the barn of a Perthshire farm, this musical theatre piece explores the cases of three of the 306 British soldiers who were executed during the First World War on charges of cowardice, desertion and mutiny.
Writer Oliver Emanuel explores the true stories of Joseph Byers (aged 17), Joseph William Stones (24) and Harry Farr (25). Motivated by the admirable desire to bear witness to the men’s stories, his play focuses the mind on the terrible price soldiers often pay, in terms of mental and emotional injury, when they are engaged in conflict.
The piece is built, jigsaw-like, from fragments of the men’s stories. We see Byers, who is too young to be at war, captured 10 miles from the front. As bombs fall near his trench, Farr is convulsed by the terror of shell-shock.
The three narratives are tied together in the play’s inevitable, yet terrible, conclusion. After penning farewells to their loved ones, the men are put before a grim-faced firing squad.
Powerful though such moments are, there is an unevenness to the structure of the piece. Consequently, despite the best efforts of an accomplished, nine-strong cast, the production is less compelling that it should be.
That said, the show, which is co-produced by the NTS, Perth Theatre, Red Note Ensemble and 14-18-Now (the organisation tasked with giving cultural expression to the centenary of the First World War), enjoys emotive live music by Gareth Williams. Directed by Laurie Sansom (outgoing artistic director of the NTS) it also boasts a mammoth set (comprised of trenches and gantries) by Becky Minto.
However, the scale of the show is a weakness as well as a strength. Although the performers are wired for sound, the unsympathetic acoustics of the capacious barn prove overwhelming at times. The consequent loss of lines of song and dialogue typifies a production that contrives to both move and frustrate its audience.
Until June 11. Details: horsecross.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on May 28, 2016
© Mark Brown