All of it is true, writer Tom Stuchfield tells us in the opening moments of his debut play, Somewhere a Gunner Fires at the King’s Head Theatre. This upfront declaration makes the events of a hundred years ago seem far less remote, and ever more real. Stuchfield also directs and stars in the production, portraying his own Great-Grandfather, a soldier who fights first for France and then Britain.
Six stories from the First World War are weaved and intertwined, set across the Italian Front, The Battle of the Somme, and the Home Front. The tales seem disparate at first, but the narrative comes together beautifully transforming each individual’s story into a chapter of the larger piece.
There’s Volker, an Austrian soldier who befriends a gunner whilst maintaining a vow not to kill any of his wife’s countrymen. Spencer (Stuchfield) who has left behind a sister and a lover, Dixon, an officer who has made too many mistakes, and Wilkinson, an American who is little more than a drunk and a coward.
The presentation is somewhat unusual, less of a play and more audio book. The characters stand against a black backdrop, a spotlight illuminates the character in question while those hidden in darkness become narrators. The very sparse staging helps to highlight the isolation which each of the characters felt, but you do keep wondering when the cast will eventually move and the action will start.
Soon though, it becomes clear that these stories don’t need to be seen being acted out, to hear them told is both compelling, and a privilege. The friendship that develops between natural enemies is particularly moving, the bonding of Spencer’s sister and lover, played by Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes and Julia Kass is incredibly heart-warming, while Volker (Chris Born) and Spencer’s dramatic escape is nothing short of thrilling.
Somewhere a Gunner Fires is a brave and engaging piece of storytelling, Tom Stuchfield should be very proud that he and the cast have brought back to life the stories of people long forgotten. They remind us that while this war lives on in our minds as a single event, it is only the individuals who lived through it who can truly share their experiences.