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Theatre Review: The 306--Day

Joy Watters reviews the second part in a trilogy of work looking at the lives of people affected by the 306 men shot for cowardice in WWI.

It was with an unforgettable heartbreaking piece of music theatre that The National Theatre of Scotland made its first contribution to the arts world’s commemoration of the centenary of World War One. 306: Dawn told the story of three men fighting at the Somme who were shot as traitors. That was just the beginning of the story. Now, a year on, NTS with Stellar Quines and Perth Theatre return to the theme, moving from the field of war to the home front in 1917, focusing on the women left behind, fighting their own battles.

The 306 refers to the number of men shot for cowardice or desertion after court martial—the men who were pardoned just a decade ago. The sentences for their widows and families were vilification and poverty, as this second part of the trilogy, written by Oliver Emmanuel and composed by Gareth Williams, powerfully shows.

306: Day is a more compact work than its predecessor. Staged in a hotel function room in the round (rather than a huge barn) with tables and chairs constantly on the move to reconfigure scenes. The emotional compass is narrower without access to the inner thoughts of the characters, unlike 306: Dawn.

Three of the women are linked to the 306, a mother, a sister and a widow, all coping with bereavement, which must be kept secret. The sister, Nellie (Dani Heron) is fictionalised into a Glasgow peace activist, her head whirling with the politics of 1917 while her husband is imprisoned as a conscientious objector. She is ultimately gagged by the law in her fight for women’s rights. Mrs Byers, the mother (Fletcher Mathers), keeps expecting her dead son to return, while Londoner widow Gertrude Farr is thrust into poverty, denied a widow’s pension.

The ensemble is tightly directed by Jemima Levick, whether moving as a chorus, with stirring songs and music from Rednote Ensemble, or in quieter moments of reflection.

Reviewed at Perth Station Hotel, where it performs until May 13 before touring throughout Scotland.

Tags: music theatre

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