Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Man & The Donkey review Customs House

In a recent TV survey, nearly half of South Shields folk didn’t know that a gallant war hero came from their town, even though a statue of him is erected in a prominent position.

Australia War Memorial_017_January 04_2010
The Man and The Donkey is a portrayal of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who was born in the town in 1892. At the age of 17 he joined the Merchant Navy, and headed off around the world, ending up in Australia. Life wasn’t good to him, so after deserting and travelling around the continent for five years, he enlisted with the army as a way and means of getting back to England. His job was that of a stretcher bearer on the front line. A year after this he was posted to the Gallipoli Peninsula - Turkey, where he tended his comrades. During the first few days of his landing, he came across a stray donkey and quickly made use of it to carry the wounded. Kirkpatrick seemed to be fearless and dodged bullets and shrapnel as though it were all make believe. Some reports say that he saved many hundreds of lives, some say thousands.
On May 19th 1915, three weeks after Kirkpatrick entered the ANZAC Corps, he was fatally injured and died from machine gun fire.

The play tonight, showed us all the goriness of war, but the compassion of its company.
The scenery and lighting of the stage set up was so realistic that you could only just imagine being in the trenches along with the brave soldiers.
John Simpson Kirkpatrick headstone
From the frontline of the dead and dying, to the transport of the wounded, Kirkpatrick sailored them from the pits of despair to the relative comfort of first aid and shelter. Stepping back in time a touch, we see the timeline of his journey from young Navy man to frontline mercy angel. This was all done in the humour from him of the well served ‘Sandancer’- the native of South Shields, a true Geordie. Even when he was berated by his Company Sergeant he still had that cheeky little answer and bewildering spirit to carry on regardless. From the moment that he set foot in the trenches of war to his sad death, John Simpson Kirkpatrick fought dam hard for his fellow soldier, from the cheery chattering,to the caring
for his passenger, John soldiered on like the war depended on it!  Him and his Donkey.!
Directed by the brilliant Jackie Fielding, and written by Valerie Laws the play was fronted by the fantastic Jamie Brown as Kirkpatrick, and his donkey played by two fellow actors, were cast superbly as they toiled for the greater good.
There is a statue of Kirkpatrick in every state of Australia, he is known as their greatest war hero; hopefully this play will elevate him, in the minds and the hearts of the townspeople of Shields, from being a lot more than just something for the pigeons to rest on.
This play, made me proud of our greatest hero that South Shields has ever seen, and was a joy to watch as the buzzing audience followed in line with my thinking.
This is a must see for anybody who is proud of the fantastic theatre on offer by brilliant cast and crew.
The Man & The Donkey
Date: 3 Feb 2011 - 12 Feb 2011 Time: 7.30pm & 2.30pm (Thurs 10 only)
Price: £15, £14conc, FRIENDS - £11 (first evening only)
Venue: Theatre

Michael Hunter
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