Our Tommy: a song for a working class hero

Dreamcatcher Theatre Company is depicting the heroic tale of Burnleys Thomas Whitham this month. (s)
Dreamcatcher Theatre Company is depicting the heroic tale of Burnleys Thomas Whitham this month. (s)

A trio of actors are marching proudly to the beat of theatre as they present the tale of a Burnley hero.

Dreamcatcher Theatre Company is marking 100 years since Thomas Whitham was awarded the Victoria Cross in its new show, Our Tommy.

Director Russell Lane said: “Thomas was an ordinary Burnley lad who took part in an extraordinary event and acts as an inspiration for people today.”

The soldier was given his award for “most conspicuous bravery” during the battle of Passchendaele in the First World War when he captured a German machine gun which had a battalion pinned down.

In this spine-tingling performance, three students of Thomas Whitham Sixth Form will stand together as they reenact the the events and take on 23 characters between them.

“I think their performances are remarkable for first year students,” Russell said.

“We were supported by Mike Townend from Towneley Hall Museum when researching the piece. I think the biggest obstacle for the students was that the world was such a different place, even down to the way people spoke and the language they used.

“But they have taken on board some complex ideas about playing multiple roles and telling a story in a non-naturalistic way.”

Joining the actors on stage are Manchester folk maestros, A Harp and a Monkey.

“Their mix of traditional folk and electronic music is astounding,” Russell said. “Their work, War Stories, is a genuinely moving series of songs.”

Devised by the students, the production will present a roller coaster of emotion as it traces Thomas’ life from his childhood in Burnley to his time in the First Battalion Coldstream Guards. It will also take audiences on a journey from the trenches to “a land fit for heroes”.

“The show is about unwitting bravery and friendship and that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things,” said Russell.

“It makes the point that the men who fought did so for many different reasons, not just for king and country.

“[It shows] that war is brutal and absurd and [examines] how we treat people who are returning from conflicts, not only in World War One but in modern theatres of war.”

“Audiences will get to look through a window onto a story about someone who lived in Barden Lane and who, to all intents and purposes, was just like them: a son, a husband, a father, who never thought of himself as a hero, but would stand for fairness and doing the right thing.”

The tale will unfold at The Burnley Mechanics on Wednesday, September 27th at 7-30pm.

Book by ringing 01282 664400.