Chichester: bus journey into the heart of the First World War

It’s a wonderful story, says director Roger Redfarn, a remarkable story.

“1,600 London buses and their drivers went to the front in the First World War. They volunteered. Conscription didn’t come in until later. They moved the troops about. The moved supplies about. They moved the injured about, and because the buses were open top, their top decks were used as pigeon lofts. 1,600 buses went. Fewer than 500 buses and their drivers returned. If you can imagine these big red buses, they had to be camouflaged, but obviously they were not used to the conditions. The roads were mud tracks. Lots of the buses crashed or fell off the roads into ditches… and yet they made an incredible difference. It was the war that everyone thought would be over by Christmas when it started in August, but these men just didn’t know what they were going into and they certainly didn’t know what the conditions were going to be.”

Roger

Roger

And this is the tale – written by Greg Mosse and Carol Godsmark – which Roger now brings to the stage. No 60 to the Somme plays at the Riverside Theatre, Chichester College with performances running from November 3-7; tickets on www.chichestercommunitytheatre.org.uk.

“For the play, we move around like crazy. It starts off in the east end of London and then Belgium and France. But I am doing it all with a table, four chairs and projections – and a wonderful company. They are professionals and semi-professionals and community people, which is the kind of mix I had always wanted. The audience just needs to bring their imaginations along with them.

“I love the story, but I also love the way Greg and Carol have written it. It is very direct and very clean cut, and you have got all sorts of different styles woven together to tell the story. Sometimes it is talking directly to the audience; sometimes it is three or four people all in different locations; or two people communicating through letters, writing or reading them. But the other thing is that it has got music-hall songs of the period. Marie Lloyd and Vesta Tilley both appear because they were used as recruiting agents. People would go out for a few drinks and end up in the music halls and Marie Lloyd and Vesta Tilley would try to persuade them to join up, slightly influenced by all the glamour of the theatre and all that was going on.

“It’s a lovely piece of writing. Greg just happened to give me the first draft of the play, and I straightaway thought it was very interesting, a good piece and most unusual. I know that one of the hopes is that it might get published by Samuel French for other people to do, and I have been approached to take it to other places. The commemoration of the centenary of the First World War will be going on until 2018. We are still looking to take it to the London Transport Museum. I do think the piece is going to have a very interesting future.”

Ticket prices include pre-performance events:

Wednesday, November 4, 6.30-7pm: Greg Mosse and Carol Godsmark, the authors of No 60 to the Somme, discuss their research and the writing of the play.

Friday, November 6, 6.30-7pm: Over by Christmas, readings and poetry from World War One.

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