Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to see the brilliant For King and Country at the Southwark Playhouse. Set during World War I, the play follows Private A.Hamp as he is on trial for desertion and has the audience wondering if he will be sentenced to death or be found innocent. This is the first time in 30 years that John Wilson’s play has been on stage in London and I managed to grab a few moments of director Paul Tomlinson’s time to find out more about the show.
HS: What can you tell us about For King and Country and how you came to direct the production.
PT: I had previously directed 3 productions for Dilated Theatre: Barrie Keefe’s SUS and My Girl 2, and Lyle Kessler’s Orphans. The producer set me a script of the First World War play For King and Country and asked me to direct it. I read the play and was immediately taken with the power and themes of the play and also found it deeply moving. I knew straight away that I wanted to direct it. The first step was to direct a rehearsed reading of the play to get some idea of how it would work in performance. We played it to a small audience of about 50 and I was staggered by the audience’s very positive reaction to the play. Most of them found it heartbreaking.
The next step was to mount a full scale production of it at the Southwark Playhouse, again the response has been very positive.
The story centres on Private Hamp, a young working class Northern lad who had to leave school at 12 and go straight to work in a cotton factory doing menial jobs. He is married with a young child. His very unpleasant mother-in-law goads him into enlisting. Like all the youngsters of his generation he had little concept of the horrors awaiting them at the front. After 4 years in the front line of the fighting he was the only one of the group who enlisted together who was still alive. After a number of unendurably horrific events on the front line he could take no more and walked out to get away from the guns and the fighting suffering from shell shock. He was eventually caught and put on trial for desertion.
HS: How much research did you do before taking on the piece?
PT: I started by doing a lot of research on-line which was of invaluable assistance. I also worked with a movement specialist and an Officer currently in the British Army, both of whom were of enormous assistance. The Officer’s work with the Company was invaluable.
I also read the fascinating novel Return to the Wood by J. L. Hodson on which the episode dealing with Private Hamp was based by John Wilson. This was very useful and informative.
HS: What made you assemble this brilliant cast?
PT: It was clear from the beginning that I had to assemble a talented and imaginative Company of actors to inhabit the play and make it work for an audience. I started with two very good and experienced actors I had worked with a number of times previously. Peter Ellis agreed to play the Brigadier General and Henry Proffit was cast as Webb.
I knew the casting of Hamp and Hargreaves would be crucial to the play’s success. I saw a lot of good actors for both parts but the two most outstanding ones were Adam Lawrence and Lloyd Everitt, both of whom are excellent. The rest of the Company fell into place and I was pleased to get Eugene Simon (Pardre), Andrew Cullum (O’Sullivan), Fergal Coghlan (Midgley) and Cameron Robertson (Corporal). Finally I got two very good young actors Thomas Weir and Nikolas Salmon to play the Guard and the Orderly Officer.
What I was looking for was a talented and committed group of actors who could work together in a strong ensemble to tell the stunning story of Private Hamp and bring it vividly to life.
HS: What can audiences expect from For King and Country?
PT: The audience should experience a stunningly powerful play which is also deeply moving. They should be appalled by the unendurable horror and brutality of World War 1, the rigid class barriers of the period and the pointless waste of youthful life.
Thanks so much to Paul for taking the time to answer my questions. I published my review of For King and Country yesterday which you can read here. For tickets and more information to For King and Country please visit https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/for-king-and-country/
Until next time,