For King and Country is the story of how young men came to be executed for desertion in the First World War.
John Wilson’s 1964 courtroom, staged by Dilated Theatre Company at Southwark Playhouse until July 21 in the centenary year of the end of hostilities, is the first viewing of the play in more than 40 years.
It follows the court martial of a shell-shocked young man for desertion, and the struggle of his defending officer to force the acquittal of the defendant in the face of bureaucracy and his own naïve honesty.
Years before post-traumatic stress disorder was officially recognised, it explores the brutality of war and what happened to the men who could take no more.
Many faced the firing squad from 1914-24 for offences such as sleeping on duty, cowardice, desertion, murder, mutiny and treason.
The original Edinburgh Festival production in 1964 had a cast including Leonard Rossiter, John Hurt and Richard Briers, and was adapted into the BAFTA-nominated film King and Country.
It is 1918, on the Western Front. Private Hamp, a young working-class soldier from Lancashire has been in the front-line of a bloody battlefield for three years.
One day he decides to walk away. More than 3,000 received a death sentence, but many of these sentences were later changed to other punishments, such as hard labour or penal servitude.
Producer Alexander Neal said: “I was given this play by a very good friend five years ago and was astounded I hadn’t known more about it, considering the quality of the story and the writing.
“I’ve been trying to put this forgotten classic on since then – and I am certain it will be worth the wait.
“For King and Country is just a terrific play; a tense, disconcerting courtroom drama set on the front lines of the First World War.
“I love courtroom dramas, and the stakes can’t get higher than this – set on the Western Front during the First World War, we see military law in action, where the accusing side and defending side alike have experienced horrors beyond imagination and face adjudication for their actions in the face of this.
“We see in action is a system full of pre-conceived ideas and pre-determined outcomes, with little consideration for exceptional circumstances or time to reflect on the accepted morality.”
Dilated Theatre Company was founded in 2011 by Alexander Neal with the aim to stage work speaking for the voiceless in society.
Previous productions include Orphans at Southwark Playhouse (2016) and SUS by Barrie Keeffe at the Lion and Unicorn (2013), both directed by Paul Tomlinson.
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.