A cast of talented North East professional actors will take to the stage next month to re- create one of the region’s most moving real-life stories from the First World War.
The Fighting Bradfords, Thursday 8 to Saturday 17 September, tells the story of the most celebrated brothers in military history – The Bradford boys from Witton Park. All four served during World War One – only one of them, Thomas, came home – all were hailed heroes.
Thomas was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his gallantry during the second Battle of Ypres, from which he was one of only 20 surviving men. George was awarded a posthumous VC for his ‘absolute self-sacrifice’ after he was killed as he leapt into enemy fire in order to anchor his ship during high seas, enabling his crew to escape. James was awarded the Military Cross for gallantly leading his men into an enemy trench, personally killing three Germans, capturing many prisoners and taking out two machine guns. The youngest brother, Roland was awarded the Victoria Cross for his ‘conspicuous bravery and good leadership’ and was promoted to Brigadier-General aged 25, the youngest in British Army history.
Influenced by a domineering father and artistic mother, the boys’ childhood was filled with imaginative role playing and intensely competitive sport. They were bare-knuckle boxers, lovers of poetry and accomplished musicians, and The Fighting Bradfords explores what drove the family to become heroes.
The Fighting Bradfords has been produced in house at The Gala Theatre, the first outside of their panto and stage school shows for six years. Durham County Council’s service manager for place and experience, Robin Byers, said: “This story is part of the history and heritage of our region, and we feel really privileged to be able to tell this story with our own production.
“We are delighted that we have been able to cast a completely local line-up of principals, and the quality of the creative team we have been able to put together is exceptional. This story of local bravery, pride and patriotism is as relevant today as it has ever been and we know that audiences will find this a poignant and memorable production.”
Written by Tyneside-based playwright Carina Rodney (The Big Marrow, Canned and Pub Quiz) and under the direction of Psyche Stott (Blue Remembered Hills and Pub Quiz), The Fighting Bradfords draws on first-hand accounts, correspondence and family anecdotes to tell the story of this highly decorated family of First World War soldiers.
The Fighting Bradfords will see North East actors Jamie Brown, Micky Cochrane, Chris Connel and Justin McDonald take on the roles of James, George, Thomas and Roland Bradford respectively. Jessica Johnson will join the cast in tackling two roles, as James’ wife Nancy and the Bradford’s sister Amy.
Jamie Brown was born in Low Fell and trained at Bretton Hall. He was named Performing Artist of the Year at The Journal Culture Awards 2016 for his roles as Harry Clasper (Hadaway Harry) and John Simpson Kirkpatrick (The Man and The Donkey). Other work includes extensive theatre roles, several characters in Catherine Cookson TV adaptations and work with Warner Brothers, AEG Live and The Royal Opera House and Ballet. This Christmas, Jamie will be returning to The Gala Theatre, exchanging the perils of war for magic beans and giants as he takes on the role of Jack in this year's pantomime.
Dunston-born Micky Cochrane is an actor, singer and from time to time a stand-up comedian. He recently appeared as Jimmy in The Pitmen Painters and toured Bear and Butterfly with Theatre Hullabaloo and Kicking and Screaming with London based company Tangled Feet. His many TV and film credits include Inspector George Gently, 55 Degrees North and Electricity.
Chris Connel hails from Consett, and his theatre credits include: The Pitman Painters, in Newcastle, London and on Broadway, Close The Coal House Door and Cooking With Elvis at Live Theatre. He has previously starred at the Gala Theatre in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To Durham and the 2014 panto Aladdin. TV and film credits include: Emmerdale, Inspector George Gently and Heartbeat as well as feature films Goal and Purely Belter. Chris has also presented various features for BBC North East and Cumbria
Sunderland-born Jessica Johnson has recently been performing with Edinburgh Festival award-winning Open Clasp in their production of Key Change. Other work includes The Women’s Voices Project at the European Parliament. TV and film credits include School for Seduction, Girls Club and more recently BBC comedy Cuckoo. She is also a comedian and punk poet.
Justin McDonald was born in Gateshead and won a scholarship to the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London. He played a lead role in the prime-time ITV drama Distant Shores and other TV work includes Holby City, The Bill and Inspector George Gently. In 2010 he joined the cast of Backbeat – the original stage adaption of the award winning film with director, Iain Softly. His film credits include the Beatrix Potter biopic Miss Potter and the Blake Morrison biopic And When Did You Last See Your Father? Justin was also recently seen in the BBC’s Wolfblood.
The Fighting Bradfords runs from Thursday 8 to Saturday 17 September at The Gala Theatre, Durham. Tickets from £12 – £15 are available by contacting 03000 266 600, visiting Gala in person or online at www.galadurham.co.uk A Pay What You Like performance is being held on Monday 12 September, booking available by phone or in- person only.