Review: The Man And His Donkey
By Martha Lane on February 4, 2011 in Stage
As The Pogues started to play the cast assembled themselves on the stage. I thought it was a promising start. Surely anything with a Pogues introduction couldn’t be all that bad. ‘Not all that bad’, though, does not actually do this play justice, because it is incredibly good.
The Man & His Donkey is playing at South Shields Customs House until 12th February. The play; penned by local writer Valerie Laws, and directed by Jackie Fielding, tells the story of South Shields boy John Simpson Kirkpatrick who was a stretcher bearer in the First World War during the battle of Gallipoli. He served with the Anzacs and is revered in Australia; while he remains relatively unknown in the UK, for his work helping the wounded out of no man’s land on his donkey. This story skips deftly between his three weeks in Egypt, and the time leading up to it, from his childhood in South Shields to his time in the Merchant Navy and all the way to Australia. Simpson (he has to change his name as he goes awol from the Navy) was a happy-go-lucky lad who sees the welfare of his asinine companion just as important as those he is rescuing from shell fire.
The play is an enjoyable mix of pathos and humour, as North Easterner and Aussie fight side by side in the trenches. There were moments of pure directorial flare, including the face of England represented by each character holding up an object, complete with cigar and boot brush for a moustache, and the donkey was a treat. It was good to see that the production suited Laws’ style. It would have been so easy for Customs House to produce something predictable with the cast running around with plastic guns shouting bang to portray this incredible story.
The Man & His Donkey is sweet and nostalgic, while being laugh out loud funny and heart breaking all at the same time. The dialogue is sharp, the accents accomplished, and the direction imaginative.
- SunFest – Sunderland Uni Students Customs House Takeover