REVIEW: Our Tommy; Burnley Mechanics

Matthew Barnett, Lewis Pugh and Liam Cavanagh making a formidable force in Our Tommy. (s)
Matthew Barnett, Lewis Pugh and Liam Cavanagh making a formidable force in Our Tommy. (s)

A trio of young actors marched their way straight into hearts on Wednesday with their celebratory show about an ordinary Burnley man who became a hero.

The three thespians - Matthew Barnett, Liam Cavanagh and Lewis Pugh - are no doubt musketeers of the am-dram scene, having cut their teeth (or polished their boots) in productions by Burnley Youth Theatre.

And with their new show depicting the life of Thomas Whitham, they certainly did their parents, teachers and fellow theatre-goers proud - and not to mention their town.

Our Tommy, presented by Dreamcatcher Theatre at The Burnley Mechanics, marked 100 years since hero Thomas Whitham was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in World War One.

And it was a resounding triumph, the show blasting audiences with a raft of emotions and a pummelling of humour for a balanced and honest look at the life of a British soldier.

The venue, in one moment, rang with pride and merriment, as the cast celebrated the courage and selflessness of young men fighting to protect their people, and then, in another, burned with a cutting poignancy. It made for a whirlwind of entertainment.

The cast members, themselves students of Thomas Whitham Sixth Form, were forces to be reckoned with. Director Russell Lane had presented them with the challenge of both trumpeting the lives of soldiers and capturing the dire reality beyond post-war celebration. And with their excellent range, the actors certainly rose to it.

The evening itself was fabulous from start to finish. Beginning with a bang - Prosecco and canapes - it concluded in a wild explosion of applause for the three actors and their director.

Offering lovely support was Manchester folk band, Harp and a Monkey. The set delivered a firing of emotions - joy, poignancy, tenderness etc - and wove real-life local stories between each song for a more personal, intimate touch. Sweet and toe-tapping melodies or powerful folk rhythms were cut with audio clippings from local people directly affected by the war. It was, therefore, a magical performance in more ways than one, the audio snippets transforming the songs into time-travelling portals.

Pride, then, was certainly the beat to which we were all clapping. In praise of the cast, Headmistress of Thomas Whitham Sixth Form, Zoe Emmett, said it all with her comment about "ordinary people doing extraordinary things." Because as the evening drew to a close, these three young talents allied together like brothers-in-arms, standing tall and proud with their heads held high - and the audience, merry with applause, stood with them.