The Man And The Donkey – The Customs House, South Shields (Evening Chronicle)

If you were to visit the war memorial museum in Australia, you would come across the statue of South Shields man John Simpson-Kirkpatrick and a donkey. The events that transpired which lead to the man being honoured in such a way are laid out in this tail, which was making its world premier.

Writer, Valerie Laws and Director, Jackie Fielding have created a play, which allows for the history and its characters to shine through, without forgetting that it must be entertaining at the same time. What results from this is the accurate telling of the story of an honest young man, caught up in circumstances which would change the course of his life forever, as it is quickly forced out of his control. From the beaches of South Shields to the trenches, serving as a stretcher-bearer in the Australian army, his ingenuity saved hundreds of lives. Listing the services of a donkey, he puts his own life in danger, carrying wounded soldiers with no thought of his own safety.

The atmosphere of each location visited is distinct despite using the same set. This is achieved through clever use of lighting and music, which draws you towards the characters themselves. Even the parts of scenes without dialogue manage to engage the audience, small touches such as the slow sound of the tide breaking against the bow of the ship, emphasise the drama through the silence of the actors.

Laugh out loud moments and in-jokes for sand dancers are numerous, and allow a slight distraction from the harsh realities of war, without ever becoming farcical. A lot of credit needs to be paid to Alison McGowan who created the donkey. Its puppetry, through subtle touches and movements give it a more realistic feel than you would think, which is important as he is such an integral character within the play.

The portrayal of the protagonist by Jamie Brown is both charming and accomplished, each line he delivers comes across as believable. He is served well by veteran actor Russell Floyd, who plays his commanding officer, as well as voicing numerous historical figures, as the wider story is unfolded. Their two styles complimenting each other well. Though the whole cast seem to fit together nicely, and the play is well acted throughout.

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