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Registered Charity 1092268

Play set in Wandsworth prison to be performed in Wandsworth prison

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Green Curtain Theatre is to hold a very special performance of their play “Traitors, Cads and Cowards” within Wandsworth Prison, south London, in May.

The play is set in June 1916, a few months after the Easter Rising in Dublin has been crushed and its leaders executed. The Somme offensive where nearly a million men will either die or be injured in Northern France is about to begin

The play tells the story of what might have happened had Liam McEnroe a volunteer from the Rising been bunked in the prison with two other men. Henry, a conscientious objector to the First World War, and Alfred, a deserter from the battlefields.

We are staging the play at the invitation of Wandsworth prison’s governor. During the course of the Great War several wings of Wandsworth Prison were given over to military prisoners. In 1916 the wings were kept busy with soldiers charged with desertion or criminal activities. That year also saw the introduction of conscription and the jail had to find space for conscientious objectors who refused their ‘call up’ and were court martialled.

Like many, my knowledge of the events after the Rising was limited to the leaders executed in Kilmainham jail or to De Valera and the handful of fighters who would go on to create the early governments of the Irish Free State.

I knew very little about the foot soldiers, the nameless hundreds who left their homes and families in a wild attempt to uproot what was then the most powerful Empire on earth. Scores of these men were sent to London to attend the Sankey Inquiry; an unsuccessful attempt by the British government to invite volunteers, like Liam, to state that they had been duped into taking part.

That this play came to the stage at all is in no small part due to Doctor Geoff Bell, Irish writer and historian. Geoff had found a cache of testimonies from volunteers in the archives of the Irish Bureau of Military History whilst researching a book. This he generously shared with Martin McNamara, the play’s author.

The play deals with many themes: the savagery of conflict and its effects on the ordinary soldier, the nature of patriotism and about how those labelled cowards or traitors can sometimes be the bravest and noblest of them all. In doing so it looks at a key event in Irish history from an invaluable perspective, one which is rarely shown.

Anne Curtis 

Director Green Curtain Theatre

This special performance takes place on Monday 14 May at 2.30pm and booking is essential