In less than an hour the cast of Pals – The Irish at Gallipoli transport their audience back into the lives of a small group of pals belonging to D Company in the Seventh Battalion of Royal Dublin Fusiliers as they undergo the trial and trauma of war one hundred years ago. As a piece of interactive theatre the spectator is taken from the awkwardness of theatric intrusion in the parade ground of Collins Barracks to participation in the events unfolding at the Royal Barracks on the eve of the spectacular military catastrophe that was Gallipoli. A woman breaks the silence as she storms into the quadrangle in search of her husband, but he is on punishment duty and, in her frustration, she leaves shouting that she hopes he dies roaring. It is with these prophetic words that the journey begins.

Throughout the experience the narrative leaps from the boyish carry-on of young men preparing for the adventure of war to its dreadful reality. Pals is deeply sensitive and an intimate re-telling of the human cost of the so-called Great War, and one which successful interrogates the psychological impact of it all on those who lived through it. It doesn’t pretend to be a documentary of the events, but rather has set out, with the help of the archives, to imaginatively recreate an authentic truth of the events of World War I as it was for the young men whose lives it destroyed. From start to finish the play is real; there is no pandering to the illusion of the glories of war or hint of the arty insincerity of the stage.

At one of the many turning points of the play, as the men in the barracks are recounting in spoken-out-letters home what they are going through, the ‘wife’ makes a ghostly reappearance into the room and tosses telegrams one by on onto the floor as she slowly turns around. As she casts down each telegram she says the name of a dead soldier. The contrast here is, of course, clear. We have her whispered litany of the dead representing the sorrowful news of lads not coming home, and the voice a young soldier writing home to his family. The scene ends with the woman wailing on the ground as she clutches a single telegram. We are left in no doubt her man died roaring. As a whole Pals is touching, tearful, and terrifying. It was an outstanding performance.

Jason Michael
Blog Author


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