The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Christmas show marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War – more particularly, the anniversary of the 1914 Christmas truce which was observed by many soldiers on both sides of the conflict. The RSC keeps things local by focusing on the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and an artist from the area – Bruce Bairnsfather, played by Joseph Kloska.
Beginning with a village football game in the summer of 1914, Phil Porter’s play takes us to France and into the trenches. There are moments of humour, not least when British soldier Smith and the German Schmidt meet and commiserate one another on their mutual hatred of football. Yet there is tragedy too, for instance when young soldier Liggins (Oliver Lynes) is killed.
Porter, and director Erica Whyman, do a good job of pitching the piece, which is after all about a horrific conflict, to the families in the audience, acknowledging the tragedy of the war without trying to traumatise the children. With a subplot about nurses on the front line, allowing for some female roles alongside the male-dominated world of the front, The Christmas Truce is a rich and thoughtful piece that doesn’t really break any new ground but deals with its subject thoughtfully and sensitively.