Theatre review: The 306: Dusk, Perth Theatre

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War, memorial events gather ever more intensely around us; and at the centre of the commemorations, so far as Scottish theatre is concerned, sits the final part of this great Perth Theatre/National Theatre of Scotland trilogy, The 306. The project is co-commissioned by the 14-18 Now Festival, the British government's official commemoration body; but uniquely, this trilogy of shows by composer Gareth Williams and writer Oliver Emanuel is dedicated to the memory of the 306 lost British servicemen of the 1914-18 war who were shot at dawn, by their own side, for what was then called cowardice or desertion.

The 306: Dusk
The 306: Dusk
The 306: Dusk

The 306: Dusk, Perth Theatre ****

The trilogy began in May 2016 with Laurie Sansom’s memorable production, in a barn in Perthshire, of The 306: Dawn; it continued last year with the touring show The 306: Day, directed by Jemima Levick, about the women who remained on the home front. And now, with Wils Wilson directing, we have The 306: Dusk, a 90-minute meditation on the war and its impact set on 11 November 2018, and presented through the thoughts and voices of three characters.

Rachel is a pregnant schoolteacher suddenly overwhelmed by memories of her ex-soldier grandfather during a school trip to the Flanders war cemeteries. Keith is an Iraq war veteran with a life devastated by post-traumatic stress, who makes the same armistice day pilgrimage; and then there is the returning spirit of Private Louis Harris, the last of the 306 to be shot, still present in the same woods in which Rachel and Keith find refuge.

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It’s probably true that Emanuel’s text achieves a little less than it hopes, in truly analysing the impact of the First World War history on our attitudes to armed conflict today. The trilogy’s focus on the 306, though, compels an unrelenting honesty about the sheer horror of war, both in 1914-18 and now.

And with Sarah Kameela Impey, Ryan Fletcher and an outstanding Danny Hughes singing and acting their way through fine performances as the three characters, and Gareth Williams’s magnificent score for community choir and five-piece string quartet gradually moving forward through Cecile Tremolieres’s beautiful screened set to take centre stage in an overwhelming closing litany of names, this final part of the trilogy emerges as a unique act of remembrance in its own right, full of passion and pity, and of determination that, at last, every one of the names of the 306 should be remembered, honoured, and heard. - Joyce McMillan

Perth Theatre until 27 October