“...It’s Whitsuntide, it’s 1914 and the sun’s shining. People are swarming up Coldwell Street, up from the station, stopping off at the George Hotel. And in the centre of Wirksworth, the flags are out’.
So says a ghostly narrator in army greatcoat and cap at the beginning of a new play, ‘Gorsey Bank to Gommecourt’, recently staged over three nights to capacity audiences at Wirksworth Town Hall.
Written by local playwright, Graham Sellors, and directed by local husband and wife team, Mike and Helen Knott, this moving production followed the lives of Bert and Jack, two young local quarry workers who enlist in the Sherwood Foresters at the start of World War One.
From the initial scenes around the Well Dressing ceremony, the action quickly moves to Jack courting local girl Mary and inviting her to an afternoon out in Matlock Bath. During this they overhear a conscientious objector on a soap box warning of the war to come and, although initially fearful for the future, they conclude that they will not be affected in Wirksworth.
But only three days later, Jack bursts onto the stage to announce: “I’ve seen ‘em. In Coldwell Street. Dozens of ‘em. Being drilled then marching off. I followed ‘em, down Cromford Hill then along through Matlock Bath. People standing watching us. Waving, cheering, all along Dale Road.”
The play then follows the poignant separations of the two young men from their families and loved ones, their experiences of deepening horror at the Front in France and the deteriorating situation back at home. The script contains many references to real families and places in the town and pays tribute to those who gave their lives.
In the closing scenes, the actors in turn read out the 105 names from the town’s memorial as small lights are extinguished one by one.A strong cast comprised young actors still at, and recently graduated from, Anthony Gell School alongside other more seasoned performers. Striking renditions of self-penned songs and a five piece silver band further enhanced the production.
Many of the audience on each night left visibly moved and the play has remained a talking point with townspeople feeling that it has deepened further an already strong community spirit.
By Andy Miller