The second instalment in the NTS’s trilogy of plays about The Great War is equally as powerful and moving as its predecessor.
While the first instalment, The 306: Dawn, examined the government’s savage treatment of its own troops, The 306: Day examines the lives of the women they left behind. With their men gone to war, women must work twice as hard to sustain their families. They are tired, hungry and in constant dread of the letter that may bring news of another casualty.
It’s a desperate situation full of ironies: pacifist Nellie must works in a munitions factory to make ends meet. Another factory worker, widowed mother Gertrude, has been stigmatised by her community and family, because her husband didn’t due in ‘the right way’ – he was executed for cowardice (one of several narrative links back to The 306: Dawn). Aggie’s husband is home on leave but so traumatised he cannot speak. There is no solace in home and hearth – they both know he has to return to the front. Although women have become the backbone of society and industry they are still regarded as second class citizens. They have no voice because they cannot vote, yet most of them regard the suffragette movement as unpatriotic.
The first part of this trilogy was staged in a Perthshire farmer’s barn. It was an immersive, upsetting and impressive. Part two is premiering in the old ballroom of Perth’s Station Hotel. This was the very place where, during both world wars, Scottish troops embarked for the front line. The venue’s faded Victorian grandeur provides an intimate setting. The audience sit around the performance space facing each other as well as the performers. The space constantly changes. Simple trestle tables become pub counters, production lines, courtroom dias and coffins. The small cast and crew work incredibly hard, each playing multiple characters. The use of multiple accents reminds us that the troubles faced by these women were repeated throughout the UK, and by every class.
Firebrand Nellie (forcefully played by Dani Heron) is suffering worse than most. She must hide the fact that her husband is in prison for being a Conscientious Objector. Her brother has been killed in France, which her mother, clearly suffering from dementia, keeps forgetting; every day she is reminded of his death and grieves again. But still Nellie fights. She attempts to organise a strike at the factory and is arrested and imprisoned for subversion. The scene in which she is strip searched and examined by a police doctor is played out for real, and is one of the most upsetting scenes I have ever seen.
It is an intensely moving but ultimately uplifting play with themes that remain relevant. War is a man’s game but it’s the women and children who suffer.
The 306: Day is touring Scotland during May and June 2017.