Georgina Briggs’ brother was one of over 300 allied soldiers executed for cowardice during the First World War. She won’t accept the shame and she won’t let it lie. But as she fights for justice a shocking discovery awaits her. This is the story of The White Feather – A New British Musical, which comes to the Union Theatre for a five week run 16 September – 17 October 2015.
Memorials to the soldiers who fought and died in the Great War grace almost every town and village but 306 names are conspicuous by their absence – the men who were executed by their own side. Some were deserters and others were condemned for putting down their weapons in the course of battle but many were suffering from what we know now as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The White Feather tells the story of one soldier and his suffering and his sister’s lifelong fight for a posthumous pardon. It also encounters the issue of homosexuality in the trenches and the potential shame which faced gay soldiers. With powerful songs and a storyline with a twist, this production has a sharp emotional intensity generated by words and music. The production will feature several wrap-around activities including historical educational talks and discussions about mental health, PTSD and surrounding issues.
Writer Ross Clark says, “like many children in the 1970s I was brought up on war films which made us out to be the good guys. But there was a very large fly in the national ointment: the execution, within the living memory of my grandparents’ generation, of 306 soldiers for cowardice, many of whom were suffering from shell-shock. While the understanding of what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder was then in its infancy, this seemed little excuse and I always puzzled why for so many years officialdom refused to accept that the executions had been wrong. What inspired me to turn the subject into a musical was the unwillingness of the First World War generation to express emotion about their experiences. Some who had fought in the trenches never even spoke to their families about what they had seen – suppressing their experiences was their way of coping. When a character sings in The White Feather, that is his or her internal voice – it is what he or she never said in real life but what I imagine to have been bubbling away inside them for the rest of their lives.”
Director Andrew Keates comments, “this production is important because it’s about a time and subject matter that will shock and shame many but, on the other hand, it’s a piece of new British musical theatre that I hope many will be proud to support.”