Players’ poignant war tale

Daniel Starkie as Pte James Smith (S)
Daniel Starkie as Pte James Smith (S)
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A powerful play about the fate of a shell-shocked deserter in the First World War is the latest offering from the Rossendale Players.

“Early One Morning” by Les Smith tells the true story of British soldier Pte James Smith who was executed at dawn for refusing to fight – in all likelihood he would today have been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pte Smith from Bolton joined the Army in 1910 and served with the 1st Battalion of Lancashire Fusiliers.

At the outbreak of war he was posted to Africa and then served at Gallipoli before being transferred to the Western Front, where he fought bravely in the Somme and was promoted to L/Cpl.

During a battle he was buried alive after an explosion of German artillery and had to be dug out.

“Early One Morning”, directed by Stanley Whittaker, features young Daniel Starkie in a superb performance of the tragic Smith.

Philippa Vipham, as Smith’s sweetheart Lizzie Cartwright, is also excellent in the well-managed flashback sequences.

A strong supporting cast is topped by Mark Storton as the Sgt Fielding, who masters the Northern Irish accent with aplomb.

Storton’s character acts as a narrator for the play, and he really amplifies the belligerent but ultimately tragic undertone to the story.

The most moving scene is that featuring Pte Smith with his comrades L/Cpl Bradley (Liam Husband) and Pte Webster (Matthew Holmes) where the three young protagonists act out the desperate final hours leading up to the execution.

The other big star of the production was the tremendous set – the stage at the tiny New Millennium Theatre in Waterfoot transformed into the mud of the Western Front.

Pte Smith’s name was finally added in 2009 to Bolton’s roll of honour to soldiers killed in the First World War.

In 2006 the government formally pardoned 306 British soldiers executed for military offences other than murder or mutiny.

“Early One Morning” runs until Saturday, April 25th, at the New Millennium Theatre, Burnley Road East, Waterfoot, at 7-30pm.