Review: Keep The Home Fires Burning by Phoenix Theatre Group at Rose Theatre, Chesterfield

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How can portraying a world war which happened a century ago make an impact on a modern-day audience in Derbyshire?

See for yourself in the final production of Keep The Home Fires Burning, which Phoenix Theatre Group is presenting at Chesterfield’s Rose Theatre this evening (Saturday, November 15) at 7.45pm.

This original production is compelling viewing, a well constructed, well-researched piece written by its director Rob Pilmore, with assistance from co-director Doris Worthington and David Brown.

Highly informative, it sets out the events which triggered the First World War in the form of a history lesson to the class of 2014. Doris Worthington is the teacher who delivers a stream of key facts and I learned more from her about the war than I ever did at school. The action then segues into two students discussing the relative merits of the pop bands Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs with a pumping soundtrack in the background.

Another key scene which marries the past and present is when one of the students is playing the Trench Warfare video game and her shooting mission is frozen by technical difficulties. She’s then plunged from virtual reality into the real deal, drafted in as a soldier and being terrified by the sound of gunfire and vivid lighting strafing the stage.

The play is themed on how war affected Chesterfield and portrays women drafted in to act as conductors on the tramway network, a reference to no fish being available at Boden’s chip shop, how girls in the munitions factory were called canaries because sulphur turned their faces yellow and how the town’s knitters supported the war effort by making socks for the soldiers.

There are two poignant scenes which are real lump in the throat moments. An elderly lady reading a relative’s letter from the frontline while soldiers drop dead scattering poppy petals as they fall. And the touching finale sees names of the casualties being read by officers and nurses in front of wooden crosses.

Keep The Home Fires Burning is a short play but one which will keep you thinking. It deserves to be seen by all ages.

GAY BOLTON