Surprising yet thoughtful drama

At The Gates of Gaza, Theatre Royal, Bury St EdmundsJUST when you think every film, play or drama that could have been written about the First and Second World Wars has been done so, along comes a play that proves to be a bit of surprise.

At The Gates of Gaza, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

JUST when you think every film, play or drama that could have been written about the First and Second World Wars has been done so, along comes a play that proves to be a bit of surprise.

And something of a shameful surprise too.

While schools teach youngsters about brave soldiers fighting in the trenches and the famous Christmas Day truce of the First World War, grainy black and white films have always focused on the heroics of our men sent to fight for their country.


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But how often do we hear about the young men sent to fight on behalf of their colonial rulers? The young West Indian men who weren't even allowed to fight against European enemies because of the colour of their skin?

How often are today's generation of school-goers taught about the race riots in Liverpool that followed the arrival of these British West Indies Regiment veterans after the war?

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It is these questions that inspired Juliet Gilkes Romero to write At The Gates of Gaza - to represent a side of the war that all too few are familiar with.

The action centres on a group of West Indian soldiers who have become separated from their regiment and are hiding out in the shell of a building in Palestine, avoiding sniper fire and searching for a way out.

Despite the prejudice that follows them even onto the battlefield, the group of soldiers show remarkable commitment to the Empire that rules them and even of them believes this war will show they are real men, capable fighters, strong citizens.

And yet, each man must also fight his own battle too, a battle with fear, or with facing up to the reality that a missing comrade isn't coming back, or a battle to become a leader or even just to find his own identity in this strange and unfamiliar territory.

For one of them, Fairchild, the battle to find his own identity is immense as he struggles to accept his mixed race background and finds he is respected as neither a white man or a black man.

Facing death, the group must learn to work as a team, find each other's strengths, rise above their stations and trust their fellow comrades. But they must also learn to trust themselves.

But the sad truth is that the war would never be won for these men, they were simply puppets in another man's battle, another country's war - and when it was over they would be thrown on the scrapheap again.

Romero's writing throughout is superb, the cast of young actors tackle the storylines with strong acting and a just a touch of gallows humour.

At The Gates of Gaza is no light-hearted play, it is serious drama that tackles a serious part of our history.

A part of history that everyone who has ever felt pride in the efforts in our brave young British fighters should know about and spare some pride for all the other young men who sacrificed so much too, for so little recognition or thanks.

HELEN JOHNS

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