The First World War might strike you as an unlikely topic for a comic play – but the Northern Broadsides theatre company have made it work in An August Bank Holiday Lark.
Inspired by a Philip Larkin poem, the story is set in Greenmill, a Lancashire village preparing for an annual harvest festival.
A rogue cockerel features alongside clog-dancing and a blossoming romance in a tale that takes an alternative view of the war’s effect on Britain.
Playwright Deborah McAndrew said: “There are some great plays about the First World War already. I was quite conscious of trying to visit a little corner of the world which hadn’t been looked at.
“Everybody knows how it ends. The trick is to try and make a familiar story fresh.”
Mary Farrar is in love with newly-recruited Frank Armitage, one of three lads from the village who go off to war. The pair wed just before Frank ships out – and in mildly controversial circumstances.
McAndrew is clear on the message she wants to send. She says: “The three boys in my play are not soldiers – they’re civilians in uniform. Very great numbers of men who died were not soldiers.
"They had six weeks’ training camps and then they were off, and then they were dead.
“They don’t just belong to the Army, they belong to the communities. I was looking to remember the living as much as the dead.”
But make no mistake – the full tragedy of the Great War looms in the background throughout, as the Tommies fight in the Dardanelles campaign.
McAndrew adds: “If you can make an audience laugh and cry on the same page that’s something to aspire to.
“I’ve got to try and honour the truth of the story but try and surprise the audience. I’m in pursuit of an emotional effect, always.”
An August Bank Holiday Lark; Rose Theatre, High Street, Kingston; June 3-7, 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm matinees June 5 and 7; £17-£25; call 08444 821 556 or visit rosetheatrekingston.org.