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Thousands ‘join up’ at Gala for 1916: No Turning Back


Sep 28, 2016

After 39 days and over 300 performances the end has come for the critically acclaimed, first-of-its-kind production, which saw the auditorium transformed to take audiences to the Battle of the Somme and back.

But theatre bosses are not resting on their laurels, with rehearsals already well underway for The Fighting Bradfords, and children from the Gala Theatre Stage School joining adult actors to this September tell the true story of the county’s own family of First World War heroes.

Durham County Council’s manager for place and experience, Robin Byers, said: “Close to 5,000 visitors travelled from across the country, and beyond, in just six weeks to experience 1916: No Turning Back – We had visitors from as far away as New Zealand!

“And the feedback was overwhelming positive, with the experience being described as ‘poignant’, ‘moving’ and ‘unforgettable,’ and the cast – North East actors Luke Maddison, Lawrence Neale, Anna Nicholson, and Sam Neale – as ‘outstanding’.”

The show was part of Durham Remembers, a series of commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which also includes the Somme 1916: From Durham to the Western Front exhibition at Palace Green Library and the premiere of the Durham Hymns at Durham Cathedral.

Next up is Gala’s first in-house drama production for a number of years, The Fighting Bradfords, from Thursday 8 to Saturday 17 September.

Drawing on first-hand accounts, correspondence and family anecdotes it tells the stories of the four brothers from Witton Park, near Bishop Auckland, who went to war and became both local and national heroes, with two Victoria Crosses, a Distinguished Service Order and a Military Cross between them.

Robin said: “This story is part of the history and heritage of our region, and we feel really privileged to be able to tell it through our own production.”

The show, which is being supported by West Auckland councillors’ neighbourhood budget and the Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership, follows the brothers from their childhood to the war.

And that is providing an opportunity for youngsters James Maclaurin, Ben Donaghy, Harry Oliver and Elliot Wardle, from the Gala Theatre Stage School, to tread the boards.

James, 13, started with the stage school seven years ago, and has since featured in the lead role of Cameron Mackintosh’s ‘Oliver’, as well as appearing in various TV shows such as Harriet’s Army, Dumping Ground and Watchdog.

Ben, 14, has been with GTSS for the last four years, where he has enjoyed a variety of roles including Fizzy in Bugsy Malone and being a member of the Gala Theatre Pantomime cast.

Harry, 11, is a three year veteran of the school with roles in each of its yearly productions, including the lead role of Horton The Elephant in the stage school’s production of Seussical earlier this year.

And aged 12, Elliot’s love for acting was sparked at primary school, which encouraged him to join GTSS last year. He has recently featured in its production of Jekyll and Hyde.

The Fighting Bradfords runs from Thursday 8 to Saturday 17 September at the Gala Theatre in Durham.

Tickets are priced from £12 to £15, and are available by calling 03000 266 600, visiting the Gala Theatre in person or online at www.galadurham.co.uk