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REVIEW: The Fulstow Boys at South Shields Customs House

The Fulstow Boys
South Shields Customs House
Until Saturday 29th September 2018

Gordon Steel and the Steelworks Theatre Company follow up 2016’s Grow Up Grandad with a poignant look at the impact of the Frist World War on a small Lincolnshire village.

You may have spotted that there has been an abundance of productions about the Great War in the 100th anniversary of the conflict, however, this story, based upon factual events, compares the events with a 21st century reaction. In addition, at a time when it is pointed out how few films and theatrical productions have strong female leads, we have a show with 2 strong leading female characters. Not only that: it is men who are asking “now what do we do?”

The Fulstow Boys has two timelines – with the single cast involved in roles both during the war and in 2005. The distinction between these eras is easily spotted by the costume design by Foxton. Even when a WW1 character remains on the stage it is obvious when the focus swings to nearly 100 years later. Writer and director Gordon Steel manages this effectively and the wrapping around the single set keeps the pace moving. The two hours, plus interval, fly by.

The 2005 story centres on a small village committee discussing the reasons behind the lack of a war memorial and the need to remedy the matter. Laura Mould plays the strong-willed Nicola Pike who has spotted the anomaly and feels that a memorial needs to be erected. Arguing over the fine detail is the equally strong-minded Moira (Katy Federman). Making up the numbers in the committee, and at times pushed around by the women, are Graham (Simeon Truby) and Maurice (David Nellist). These male characters are often the source of the humour and lighter moments in the piece.

Meanwhile in 1914-1919 the male characters are more dominant. Charles Kirman (Joshua Hayes) is ready to set off to fight and his father Francis (Simeon Truby) is very stoic about the matter. 16-year-old George Marshall Jnr (Ash Matthews) is very keen to join the fight but his father George Snr (David Nellist) is determined to keep him in Blighty as he is underage.  Adding to the mix Charles’ fiancĂ© is pregnant and so he quickly marries before being shipped across to France. Charles has medals from previous conflicts, so he forms part of the British Expedition Force that was the first to fight in 1914. Of course, the war was supposed to be over by Christmas 1914…

Back in 2005 the issue of the memorial goes from a letter in the Telegraph to the arrival of numerous television news crews as the story is picked up. It is clear we are dealing with the story of normal real people with emotional attachment to the issues. This provides a significant juxtaposition to the powerful story, though routine for a WW1 drama, happening at the front. Having said that, the predictable conclusions of events 100 years ago are no more palatable as they unfold.

This is a powerful, well-executed example of new writing. Laura Mould and Katy Federman lead an emotional ride as resolute, strong women. The male actors shine most strongly in the war era. David Nellist and Simeon Truby are fathers that expected respect from the younger generation. Joshua Hayes is convincing as the hero in a hell hole whilst Ash Matthews is one to watch in his supporting role.

A tight cast work well together to produce a very watchable drama. As we left, we recalled the impact that the first show that we ever saw at the Customs House, Gordon Steel’s Like A Virgin had on us. We also thought that this was a perfect companion piece to The Man And A Donkey which graced the Customs House stage back in 2015. This show is worth a trip to South Shields.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

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