REVIEW: The Fighting Bradfords, Gala Theatre, Durham, Until September 17

Jamie Brown in The Fighting Bradfords.
Jamie Brown in The Fighting Bradfords.

“Is it enough just to exist? What do you care about, what would you fight for?”

That is the big question posed by The Fighting Bradfords, a “theatrical storytelling” of the real-life heroism of the four Bradford brothers who went from boisterous childhood games in Witton Park, County Durham, to the horrors of the First World War.

Only one, Thomas, returned home. And through the expert scripting of Carina Rodney, it is also a question posed for our times – for a 21st century audience at a time when, 100 years on from The Somme, war persists; indeed has, through recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, become painfully close to such numbers of families in the North East as had not been seen for decades previously.

The story of the Bradfords, Roland, the born leader and natural soldier; George, who heroically took on a seemingly suicidal mission; James, the unwilling volunteer; and Thomas, the eldest, is told personally and movingly through a 1960s discussion between Thomas, by then an old man, and a young history student, full of ideas of free love and desperate for fame, but not sure he would fight for anything.

Jessica Johnson is superb as the boys’ heartbroken mother Amy and James’ shattered widow Nancy; Justin McDonald is captivating as the charismatic Roland; Jamie Brown brilliantly portrays the fear of James and other Tommies; Micky Cochrane gives a fascinating insight into the mind of boxer and Navy man George; and Chris Connel carries the whole production with ease as Thomas.

This is not an easy watch; but neither should it be. What it is, is a triumph.

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