Pop Up Theatre Celebrates WW1 Peace At Shaftesbury Library

Shaftesbury Library will host pop-up theatre on Thursday afternoon, when actors will perform excerpts from a play that recounts how North Dorset celebrated the end of the First World War.

The Taboo Theatre Company will offer a taster of Rage, Tears and Cider before the full-length show debuts over in Sturminster Newton next month. The story follows events in Stur on Peace Day, 21st July 1919. Although the Great War’s conflict ended in the autumn of the previous year, the King declared that a national celebration should be enjoyed the following summer.

“If you have a look at the Western Gazette for that day, you will see that villages all over Dorset and, presumably, all over the country had instructions to enjoy themselves. A lot of them did. The only problem was that it peed down with rain for the whole day,” explained Tony Benge. He co-wrote the play with Sue Ashby.

Tony and Sue have included references to real people. “Some of the characters were definitely people who existed. We’ve done as much research as we could into what their lives were like,” said Tony. “Plays need conflict and drama so we have had to create some things which were plausible but may not have necessarily happened.”

Tony has understood the power of words and language for decades. “My writing career started as a journalist in Manchester in the mid-1970s. We set up our own community paper, which ran for eight years and then, from that, I did some work for national radio and TV research. Then I started to write drama.”

Tony’s plays have been performed to national audiences. “My first ever commission was from BBC Radio Four and was about a man who had lived in my village in Suffolk. I could see the house where he lived. The poor chap was impoverished and he had set fire to a bean stack. He was taken to Bury St Edmund Gaol, tried and executed.”

After the performance tomorrow, Tony will share his thoughts, tips and experiences for budding playwrights who want to produce scripts based on real life, historic events. Tony says he only needs a snippet of a true story to inspire him. The play he wrote about Manchester painter LS Lowry stemmed from one interesting anecdote.

“It was based on an incident when a fellow student, who was only fifteen, used to attend life drawing classes in the evenings. The Bishop of Manchester turned up one night to check who was there looking at naked ladies. The student was barred from life drawing and Lowry and the other students went on strike. I thought it was a great start for a play,” said Tony.

Tony knows of at least one Shaftesbury area story that he thinks could make an engaging theatre production. He is intrigued by the owner of the house, which now provides a home to Port Regis School, Hugh Grosvenor. At the end of the First World War he returned to civilian life but didn’t want to run Motcombe House and the estate.

Grosvenor chose to follow his passion for playing polo and breeding racehorses instead, so he sold the estate. Tony reckons that would make an interesting play. “I just thought how much this might have unsettled life in Shaftesbury for people, to have their houses sold off to a private landlord.”

Tony will talk and the Taboo Theatre Company will act in Shaftesbury Library at 5pm on Thursday 11th October. The full play, Rage, Tears & Cider, will be performed in the Stour Hall at The Exchange in Sturminster Newton at 3pm and 7.30pm on 10th November.