The 306: Day casts much needed light on the Great War's social history
- Gareth K Vile
- 9 May 2017
National Theatre of Scotland's second WWI play favours sensitivity over dramatic tension
The virtues of The 306: Day are clearly evident: promoting a conversation about the often ignored home front of World War I and the impact of the government's militarism on the women 'left behind', it uncovers a hidden history and, by offering a range of characters, refuses to reduce the home front to a single stereotype. With a great ensemble cast and a fluid, dynamic direction from Jemima Levick, Day casts much needed light on the period's social history.
Unfortunately, the importance of the issues are not weaved into entrancing theatricality: the three protagonists – a peace activist, a mother in denial about her son's death and a war widow – are largely undeveloped, as their episodes reiterate their situations before achieving resolutions through theatrical sleight of hand. Having established their characters effectively and rapidly in the first scenes, the script demonstrates the consequences and only rarely – as in the arrest of the peace activist – articulating the tensions dramatically. Even the format – sung interludes and spoken scenes – gives the production a static and repetitious atmosphere.
Certain scenes play out more powerfully: the visit to a conscientious objector husband in prison suggests the moral dilemmas and restrained passions of the battle between personal and political good and the final speech, which transports the action forward in time as a descendent of one protagonist addresses parliament, contains an ebullient spirit that captures the play's ambitions to address an historical injustice. Day is sensitive to the real life issues it explores, without reducing them to slogans. However, it respects them too much to convert them into dramatic tension.
Oliver Emanuel's script makes a thorough examination of the conditions of wartime Britain, and draws together the pressures of war on innocent women to expose the vicious patriarchy of the time, and its uncomfortably totalitarian attitude towards the citizens' freedoms. The imaginative use of the sparse set and the energy of the cast do keep the action moving, and, as a theatre of ideas, Day engages with a hard part of British history.
Station Hotel, Perth, until Sat 13 May, then touring Scotland.