Until 2005, the small northern village of Fulstow was one of the only villages in the country that did not have a memorial for its war veterans. Local soldier Charles Kirman was shot at dawn as a deserter and denied a memorial, despite suffering the debilitating effects of PTSD, an illness that went unrecognised at the time. In support of his heroism at war, the village refused to allow a memorial to be created unless all of the Fulstow boys, including Kirman, were honoured. Steelworks Theatre’s The Fulstow Boys is inspired by the modern day true story of Nicola Pyke, a local woman who fought to create a memorial to all of the fallen soldiers, examining pride, honour and challenging perspectives on heroism and cowardice.
The Fulstow Boys takes place in both the past and the present, depicting the experiences in the village back in World War 1 and in the modern day. The dilapidated 21st century village hall set, in which most of the action takes place, neatly doubles up as a 1920’s house and in a turn of great directional flair, characters and actions from each era often overlap on stage like shadows from the past. Whilst it’s a shame that these moments are less frequent in the second half, it establishes a powerful spiritual connection between the two narratives.
The six-strong cast create an impressive ensemble, and five of them multi-role as characters in both eras. Laura Mould brings Nicola Pyke to life with a passionate energy and hones in on the caring and empathetic soul beneath her hardened exterior. Joshua Hayes is nearly unrecognisable between roles and both David Nellist and Simeon Truby expertly handle the productions’ humour, Nellist in particular providing the piece with a delightfully dry comical backbone.
In large part thanks to these two, it can’t be ignored that The Fulstow Boys is hilarious. Gordon Steel tightly scripts the events of the modern day like a sitcom, with smatterings of farcical sight gags and toilet humour. On paper it risks undermining the serious messages in the play, but in practice it serves as a powerful juxtaposition that reminds us why wars are fought in the first place: to reserve our right to worry about the silly little things. To worry about who gets to bake the chocolate cake for the fundraiser or which ridiculous costume to wear for fancy dress.
The Fulstow Boys deftly weaves humour and heart into this real life story and is delivered with pride and conviction by the brilliant ensemble. It will make you think twice about what it means to be a hero, both then and now.