Wartime drama too slow

At the Gates of Gaza - The New Wolsey Theatre 10th/11th OctoberWORLD War One - The war to end all wars - is a subject that of necessity is full of drama and tension.

At the Gates of Gaza - The New Wolsey Theatre 10th/11th October

WORLD War One - The war to end all wars - is a subject that of necessity is full of drama and tension. There is almost too much material to do justice to - and there have been many plays and books written that have tried to capture the essence of what was effectively a collective rite of passage for thousands of young men.

Juliet Gilkes Romero, a journalist turned playwright, has tried to give us a different angle by focusing on the little known West Indian regiments of the British army and their contribution to the battles in Palestine.

The play started well with the hero, a mixed race lad, war blinded and alone facing an angry mob in Liverpool during the race riots of 1919. We are then propelled back to a dusty outpost in the desert where he is trapped with fellow soldiers Patterson, Styles and Big George as they contemplate whether to wait for their comrade sent out to find water, or move on.

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The problem with war in general, and trench warfare in particular is that it involves small bursts of action interspersed with long periods of boredom. And this in turn does not make good drama.

With the action never moving from this isolated outpost, once the lines were drawn there were very few places the actors could go. With that in mind the writing needed to be crisp and focused and the plot lines very tight in order to keep the audience interested.

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Yes there was a little fracas between the soldiers caused by Fairchild's obvious cowardice and Big George's habit of teasing, but there was no real build up of tension as the thirst began to invade and the hopes for relief must have subsided, no feelings of fear, desperation, fraying of nerves.

We got to know little about the individual backgrounds apart from Patterson and even less about the most important questions of what it was like to be a black man in a white mans army, and the motivations behind them joining up.

There was a slight lifting of pace on the entry of Sergeant Miller, wounded and unsure of the men's credentials - but the conversations soon fell back into repetition and with no build up of expectation and a sketchy hold on the characters, the final battle was somewhat of a damp squib.

Rather a wasted opportunity to explore a part of history that has remained hidden for too long.

Susan Hawkes

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