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First World War brings a community together at The Maltings in Berwick

Thirty six amateur actors are performing in a new play by Bob Wilkinson at The Maltings in Berwick

Some of the young cast members of new play Sam and Isla Forever
Some of the young cast members of new play Sam and Isla Forever

A North East theatre company is marking the centenary of the First World War with a new play.

Writer and director Bob Wilkinson has taken 18 months to create Sam and Isla Forever with the aim of it being premiered on the 100th anniversary of the start of hostilities.

Many of the 36-strong cast of amateur actors have had to learn how to march and handle guns from a drill instructor and even had their heads shaved.

The play began life after Bob, from Berwick-upon-Tweed, wrote a sketch based on the French story, A Very Long Engagement, set in the First World War.

“One of the audience said we should do that for the centenary,” said Bob, 37. “From there it grew to become a two act play. Then someone suggested it should become a musical.” Bob, who is also a gifted musician, set about writing lyrics and developing melodies.

“At the time I thought it would be twice the work of writing a play, but it turned out to eight times the work,” he said.

Bob used the experiences of old soldiers from Berwick’s King’s Own Scottish Borderers regiment to give authenticity.

“They were in town to take part in a parade and some came into the shop where I work and I was getting them to tell me their stories. I was furiously writing them down on till rolls.”

Some of the young cast members of new play Sam and Isla Forever
Some of the young cast members of new play Sam and Isla Forever

Sam and Isla Forever is the fourth play Bob has had produced.

“I always wrote but I was a total chicken about showing them to anyone until I was in my 30s,” he said.

The play has two timelines. Soldier Sam is shot for alleged cowardice in one, while his daughter fights to clear his name in the other, set in the 1970s.

There are distinct musical styles, but not those normally associated with those times.

“Every place has its own musical language,” said Bob. “All the soldiers are brash so it’s hard rock and dubstep sounds, then when it’s back in the home town it’s folksy.

“The parallel story in the 70s has more of an ambient feel to it with classical overtones as well.”

Bob’s previous work with his Tideline Runners group has been performed at small vemnues but Sam and Isla Forever is on the main stage at The Maltings in Berwick.

The cast ranges from teenagers to one of Bob’s former drama teachers.

“I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “We’ve a very strong youth theatre group in Berwick which gave me the opportunity to watch people and find the ones that would be the best fit for individual parts.”

Sam and Isla Forever is on at The Maltings until Saturday with proceeds going to Help for Heroes and the Poppy Appeal. Box office: 01289 330999.

Mark Davenport


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