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Review: Death At Dawn at Newcastle Discovery Museum

Powerful Tribute To Jackie Fielding

Death At Dawn
Newcastle Discovery Museum
Until Wednesday 2nd March 2016

Death at Dawn is a powerful production that is taking place in the beautiful surroundings of the Great Hall at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum. The glamorous surroundings are in stark contrast to the gritty reality facing the young people in 1914 as the First World War breaks out.

The story follows a North Shields lad, William Hunter (Stephen Gregory), who initially rejects the pressure to enlist and he decides to join the merchant navy. This means leaving the girl who loves him behind but he wants to explore. This leads him to arrive in Montreal and to get involved with the wife of a bar owner who sends the heavy mob around to sort him out. William decides to avoid the beating by jumping ship and heading to Liverpool. He meets some local lads and before he knows it the ladies man is attracted to a third girl. He is persuaded to enlist and so he joins a Lancashire Regiment but that doesn’t stop his head turning when faced with the local French girls.

Peter Mortimer’s tale then follows Hunter through France as he, like everyone else, tries to survive. This is no Blackadder moment and the harsh truths of life in the trenches are presented to the audience.  The action focuses on the platoon’s sergeant (Pip Chamberlin), a budding poet Private Stevens (Jamie Brown), someone who thinks he is off for an adventure, Smiley (Dean Logan) and a lad who cannot wait to kill, Private White (Dylan Mortimer).  Whilst they met in Liverpool they have little in common and don’t really see eye to eye on many values.

Director Neil Armstrong admits in the programme notes that, in tribute to the great late Jackie Fielding who directed the original 2014 production, that he did not want to change the staging of the Peter Mortimer play. Certainly, the “if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it” approach seems to have worked. The action taken place in the round, with the audience on all four sides, and the cast approaching the performance space from each corner. The play had great pace and action helped the time fly by. 

Stephen Gregory had a very engaging performance as the central character William Hunter. A confident young man who doesn’t suffer fools is presented without going over the top.

The other main roles had time to develop but there is no overloading of tedious exposition.  Whereas some WW1 production make out everyone was friendly and on the same side, this show points of the painful truth that you didn’t choose who you ended up fighting alongside with. Jamie Brown’s poet was refreshing as the character had inner strength rather being portrayed as a flaky character. Pip Chamberlin’s Sergeant and Dylan Mortimer’s Private White come across as hard men in a hard war but are more than just 2 dimensional thugs. Smiley is someone that you can care for thanks to Dean Logan’s performance.

The show has a fairly large cast with support from Alex Broadbent, Kyle Morley and Robert Wilson Baker supplementing the platoon. James Gebbie appears as Captain Barrett, who has the tricky job of representing Hunter in his Court Marshall. Completing the line up are powerful performances from Dianne Legg as Hunter’s Mother and Heather Carroll as the various ladies in Hunter’s life. Heather did well with a number of different accents as Hunter travelled around the globe finding new ladies to hook up with.

The only minor grumble about the production was the lack of refreshments in the interval.

The well directed, fast paced drama is a powerful tribute to both the late director Jackie Fielding and the generation that gave up so much in order to defend us in a cruel war.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Jowheretogo on Facebook

Read the original North East Theatre Guide preview at

Cast & Creatives:

Written by Peter Mortimer. 
Directed by Neil Armstrong

Private William Hunter: Stephen Gregory
Private Harry Stevens: Jamie Brown
Private Len Smiley: Dean Logan
Private Jack White: Dylan Mortimer
Platoon Sergeant: Pip Chamberlin
Bella/Claudette/Juliette: Heather Carroll
Margaret, Hunters mother: Diane Legg
Supporting Cast: Alex Broadbent, James Gebbie, Kyle Morley, Robert Wilson Baker.

Friday 26th February – Wednesday 2nd March , The Discovery Museum, Blandford Sq Newcastle NE1 4JA, 7.30pm plus Sat matinee 2.30pm.

All ticket £10/£8. Available via: or call: 0191 259 2743

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