The village which refused to have a war memorial - our review of The Fulstow Boys at The Customs House in South Shields

Production shot from The Fulstow Boys
Production shot from The Fulstow Boys
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The true story of the First World War would be one of tens of millions of tragedies. The Fulstow Boys focusses on just 10 - and one in particular.

The play is inspired by the true story of the village of Fulstow in Lincolnshire, its men who fought and died in the First World War, and a campaign more than 80 years later to have them finally honoured on a memorial.

Production shot from The Fulstow Boys

Production shot from The Fulstow Boys

After the end of the war, when cities, towns and villages across the country were remembering the fallen and setting up memorials, Fulstow was told it couldn’t list the name of a soldier shot for desertion. So decided it wouldn’t have one at all. The parish church never even held an Armistice Service.

Flash forward to 2005, and an equally feisty community stalwart named Nicola Pike decides the wrong must finally be righted after the issue of the memorial is raised in the local pub.

Her fundraising campaign received international media attention, and in August 2006 a memorial was finally put in place in the village.

The Fulstow Boys was written by Gordon Steel and produced by Teesside-based Steelworks Theatre Company, in association with The Customs House, as part of events to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Production shot from The Fulstow Boys

Production shot from The Fulstow Boys

The play is set across two time frames, telling both the story of Nicola’s fight and what drives her, and that of Private Charles Kirman, a veteran of the Somme, who was shot at dawn in 1917 after going absent without leave - when he is believed to have been suffering from shell shock.

Joshua Hayes’ skilful portrayal of the 32-year-old brings to life the plight of the soldier and the many others like him who suffered what is now looked on as as great injustice.

Past and present - or at least wartime and 2005 - are intermingled seamlessly and cleverly, with the sombre scenes featuring Pte Kirman offset by comic relief of the eccentric parish councillors in the sections set in modern times.

Not that the scenes in 2005 lack emotion, tension or conflict as Nicola (played perfectly by the energetic Laura Mold) fights to have Pte Kirman and the others finally recognised - facing more adversity then than her predecessors seem to have in 1919.

Production shot from The Fulstow Boys

Production shot from The Fulstow Boys

How close to the truth the happenings in the play are - and how happy the villagers of Fulstow would be at their portrayal in the play - I do not know.

But it's an excellent production which shows even after 100 years of remembrance commemorations, history classes, documentaries, films and books, there are still many, many stories to be told - and lessons to be learned - from the First World War.

The Fulstow Boys has much in common with many productions which appear at the Customs House with a simple, versatile set and a small hardworking cast.

And it’s the earthy feel, humour, charm and intimacy, telling great community stories, which make productions such as this at the theatre a real pleasure to watch.

The Fulstow Boys runs until Saturday September 29, with performances at 7.30pm and a 2.30pm matinee on Thursday and Saturday. Visit www.customshouse.co.uk for more information.