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The Fulstow Boys by Gordon Steel at the Caxton Theatre Grimsby


The Fulstow Boys by Gordon Steel

Caxton Theatre Grimsby

31/08/2021


During the course of the First World War, 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot for desertion or cowardice. Though some were undoubtedly cowards and deserters, it is now widely accepted that many were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell-shock. The Fulstow Boys is the story of one of those men and the fight to commemorate those killed by their own friends and colleagues at the order of the powers that be.And whilst it tells the story of one, it stands as the story for many.



The Caxton Players bring this play to the stage and, I believe, are the first amateur company to stage it. Clearly, it is a story geographically linked to this area and should therefore, be of interest to audiences in Grimsby.

Director Pam Reynolds presents a slick production of a challenging play that transports us from rural Lincolnshire at the time of the First World War through to 2003. We learn the story of the ten young men from Fulstow who who died during that war but remained almost anonymous because the village chose not to honour the fallen with a memorial unless all the men who died were named upon it.




And therein lies the tale, one of the fallen was Private Charles Kirman, a veteran of the Somme, who was shot at dawn in 1917 after going absent without leave. His action is, today, widely attributed to suffering shell-shock. Back in 1917, such action was deemed unacceptable cowardice by those who were not serving in teh trenches or on the front line. War memorials were not suppposed to honour deserters but the families of the fallen of Fulstow banded together and refused to commemorate nine of the ten who died, and to exclude Pte. Kirman.





The action of the play swiftly switches from wartime to 2005 in the blink of an eye. In contrast with the struggle of the Great War, we witness the struggle of a comic parish council squabbling over who should be aked to make a cake at a parish event. Central to the happenings in the modern day is Nicola Pike, a real-life campaigner who fought to create a memorial to all who died including Pte. Kirman.

In the role of Nicola Pike, Debbie Appleyard excels. She is a woman driven by a cause, determined to see justice served for Charles Kirman. She has a mouth like a Grimsby fishwife and the drive of a woman who knows she can change the world. Her portrayal is real and sympathetic as we see the sacrifices made by Nicola Pike herself, as she pursued her quest for a memorial.

Debbie is the sole actor to perform a single role in the play, everyone else is called upon to play a series of roles spanning the two time periods, and do so very well (with some very quick changes performed effectively). We see Nicola's drive and determination coupled with her initial disappointment that her own boys join the cadet force during the story.

Stuart Stretton as Charles Kirman, delivers an incredibly strong performance. He manages to convey Kirman's mental anguish effectively, as he battles with his own "cowardice". He takes him from the doting father to the man acceping what has to be the consequence of his actions as a blindfold is placed over his eyes and a target set on his chest for the firing squad to aim at. His performance will stir audiences and tears will be shed.


Barbara-Ann Lidgard, playing Charles's wife Dora is loving and sympathetic and yet she manages to bring an altogether different energy as the waspish Moira, nemesis of Nicola on the parish council and opposed to memorialising deserters having losther own father as a result of the war. Her tight-lipped and grudging acceptance is a masterclass as the audience roots for Nicola, precisely because of her antagonism.

Ruaridh Greig plays the dramatic role of Charles Kirman's bluff and emotionally stunted father, Francis. It is as the modern day Graham that he steals the show however. Graham is the eternally hen-pecked man who may well have featured on saucy seaside postcards. Everybody seems to bully Graham and his unfortunate condition is the source of great amusement for both audience and the other characters in the play.


Ian Hammond's Maurice is a wonderfully light portrayal of the pompous chair of an amateur operatic society providing much needed comic relief to the dark undertones of the play and Charles' story. Yet as George Marshall Senior, he manages to help the audience understand the strength of feelings held by the families of Fulstow in the aftermath of the war.

Rounding out the cast is Tasos Kapatsoulias, with a remarkably mature performance for such a young man. Seeing this incredibly confident young performer it is easy to see that some boys were able to convince the authorities they were over 18 at the time of enlisting. He gives a measured, emotional performance as George Marshall Junior, a young man who idolised Charles and who also gave his life in the war.


The story of Nicola Pike's fight may be fictionalised for the stage, but it was a very real fight that took place and ensured that all the men of Fulstow who died in service of their country during the two World Wars, are commemorated. I hope The Fulstow Boys gets the audience that it deserves. It is a play to remember. Let's all remember the victims of war, including those broken in service of their country.


The Fulstow Boys by Gordon Steel runs from 4 - 11 September 2021 at the Caxton Theatre Grimsby. Tickets are available online at www.caxtontheatre.com



Andy Evans

01 September 2021

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