A new World War One play will be coming to Manchester’s 53two next month, ahead of Remembrance Day.
The Last Post brings to life a series of letters between a boy in Folkestone and his father who is fighting on the Western Front in Belgium.
The span of the play is 70 years but begins in 1914.
The play is produced by Hobgoblin Theatre Company, a leading Theatre-In-Education company, which gives thousands of children their first taste of theatre every year.
We caught up with writer James Anthony and one of Hobgoblin’s company directors to find out more.
What attracted you to the play?
We were approached by the book’s author Keith Campion to adapt his brilliant book of letters between a father and his son for the stage.
He knew of our success with adapting stories and bringing history to life for kids and when we read his book we leapt at the chance!
The book has been such a fantastic resource for teaching the Great War in the classroom (Keith himself is a teacher,) so I knew a stage version would be just as powerful.
I must stress that Keith did all the hard work here – the story and research was his, I just did the fun bit.
Can you tell us a bit about Hobgoblin Theatre and how you have moved from schools as your venues, to theatres with this tour?
Hobgoblin was started by myself and my partners Hannah Bowen and Dan Ellis in 2007.
We actually all met whilst working in the same pub!
We were all actors with loads of experience working with and performing for children.
The three of us had all found that other theatre companies we’d worked for had a tendency to talk down to kids and we knew we could do better. 16 years and 30 plays later we’ve been proved right!
How important is theatre for children in your opinion?
Theatre is so important for kids and should be accessible to all, so schools are the best place to reach them.
We knew that The Last Post would be a hit with grown-ups too and deserved to be seen in theatres which is why we’re touring it now.
We’re so proud of this and we’ll be following it up with our version of A Christmas Carol in December.
How do you stop a story like this from being told in the same old way? As stories of war involving letters can become very static. How do you avoid that?
I knew early on that we needed a split stage – we needed to see life running concurrently on the Home Front and in the trenches. We are also using multimedia projections for the first time to make sure that the audience is getting an all-round theatrical experience. Although letter writing had to remain an integral part of the plot, it’s never boring. The letters are brought to life by the skill of our actors and are just one aspect of the characters’ lives.
Why do you feel children will enjoy this production?
For 1000 reasons but essentially: kids love stories and they love history – it helps them see their place in the world.
The fact that this story is based on true events that happened to families just like theirs draws them in.
Our main character is a 10-year-old boy called William Downing and even though his story takes place 100 years ago, they can still relate to his life.
Besides that, they love watching the skill of our actors – three of them playing nine characters – and brilliantly.
What about older members of their family who may bring them. What is in it for them?
This production has something for everybody – relatable characters, a great plot, brilliant acting and direction… but it’s also incredibly moving.
A play about WW1 is never going to be a laugh riot but there are moments of levity in the show that make the tragedy of the situation even more impactful.
All the teachers who watched the show in schools last year commented on the same thing – the power of it appealed to adults and kids alike.
53two is a space in which the audience can see the whites of the performers’ eyes. That must be advantageous for a piece like this one, rooted in emotion.
Absolutely. We love this space and it was one of the first venues we approached. Whether the audience is in a school hall or in a studio theatre, it’s vital that they feel part of the action and become friends with our characters – 53two is perfect for that.
Lastly, what three reasons would you give for a family to spend part of their half term at 53two watching The Last Post?
- I guarantee you’ll love it. It’s funny, gripping and moving. An hour flies by.
- Your kids will learn something. It’s packed full of brilliant historical detail without being boring.
- Remembrance Day is coming up. What better time to honour the sacrifice of those brave soldiers and their families at homemade?
The Last Post is at 53two on 25th October (evening) and 26th October (matinee) and tickets can be booked here.