IN 1932 a group of Manx war veterans walked onstage at the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, in an effort to raise funds for the British Legion.
Now, nearly 80 years later, the group founded by those men will return to the very same stage to perform the same play.
Next week, from Thursday to Saturday (November, 17–19), the Legion Players, supported by the Service Players – who also have a history in the armed forces – are once again performing RC Sherriff’s harrowing war drama Journey’s End in the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas.
Now considered a classic work of drama, the play is a poignant reminder of life in the trenches and the tragic loss of young life that was WWI. Set in an allied dugout in 1918, Journey’s End is based upon Sherriff’s own experiences of World War 1, and follows a small group of officers as they try to cope with six days on the frontline.
The play will be performed each night at 7.30pm and at 2.30pm on the Saturday to help the Royal British Legion celebrate its 90th anniversary and to coincide with Remembrance Day.
Talking of the original performance of the play, current member of the Legion Players Stephanie Gray explained: ‘Lovers of drama and acting, the men had already formed part of the groups which had put on concert parties and informal shows.
‘However they wanted to show that they could act seriously as well, while at the same time helping veterans less fortunate than themselves.’
She said: ‘Their hard-hitting performance of R C Sherriff’s harrowing war drama Journey’s End did not make for an easy debut. According to press reports of the time, “the company tackled a big task in a big way and earned the warm appreciation of audiences that filled the theatre” for the performances on February 18 and 20, 1932.’
The original cast of 13 included Tom Quayle (chief reporter of The Isle of Man Examiner and later, editor of the Mona’s Herald), Bert Kenna, Tom Quirk (later Mayor of Douglas), Arthur Cain (later Deemster) and John Caine, of Douglas furnishing company James Caine Ltd.
Stephanie said: ‘Following the success of Journey’s End, the society was put on to a permanent basis. The Players’ first actress, Sylvia Bailey, joined the following year.
‘We have a copy of the original 1932 programme including a photo of the original cast, biographies of each and a newspaper write up of the production which we hope to include in the programme of our play.
‘It is quite a piece of history – in fact it is the Legion Players’ 80th anniversary in 2012!’
In addition, the Legion Players have been asked by the Gaiety Theatre to showcase a new captioning unit which offers subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing in theatres during their matinee performamce on the Saturday.
Although the poignant play hits the stage later in the week, the anniversary celebrations begin tonight (Friday) at 7.30pm with a Poppy concert and act of remembrance entitled The Angel and the Fallen.
Conductor John Bethell and Bishop Robert Paterson will lead the service in the Villa Marina Royal Hall. Regular soldiers from 12 Regiment Royal Artillary (the island’s associated unit) will attend and members of the Royal British Legion and military associations will be paraded together with representatives of the various military charities.
• Tickets for Journey’s End cost £10. Anyone requiring captioning seats during the Saturday matinee is advised to inform the box office.
Tickets for The Angel and the Fallen concert are £10.
All tickets are available from the box office on 600555, the Sea Terminal Welcome Centre or online at www.villagaiety.com