Teenagers capture mood of small town’s Great War sacrifice

Scarlett Baker,  Darcy Evans, Leah Banwell,  Yasmin Duggal & Sophie Marsden .
Scarlett Baker, Darcy Evans, Leah Banwell, Yasmin Duggal & Sophie Marsden .

The shattering loss born by a Lancashire mill town during the First World War was poignantly portrayed by teenage actors in their production of Peter Whelan’s hard hitting drama, The Accrington Pals. Taking the lead role of Eva, 15-year-old Eccleshall thespian Leah Banwell joined Stafford Grammar School’s young cast in capturing the mood of one small town’s Great War sacrifice when the 720-strong Accrington Pals battalion lost 585 men on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The play was chosen to coincide with the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and its title reflects how some battalions comprised soldiers from specific towns and cities in the belief that friends were more likely to fight better alongside their pals.

Rather than dwelling on the horrors encountered on the front, much of the drama is focused on the women of Accrington who were left behind.

   “It was important for me to look at the history so I could really get into the character. It was quite emotional and the atmosphere backstage was so different from other productions I’ve been involved in. Everybody was silent.

“I feel everyone has been talking about Remembrance this year on social media and in the news and I know that this play is one I’ll always remember, particularly at this time of year,” said Leah, who is a GCSE drama student.

In addition to the play, staff and pupils created an exhibition of WWI memorabilia, information and descriptive writing which is on display at the school.