Conchies!

Ian Sharp
A Certain Demographic
Quaker Meeting House
to

By the 1930s, there was supposed to be a better system in the UK for dealing with conscientious objectors.

What that amounted to is explored in Conchies which takes us from the mid-thirties through to the Second World War drawing mainly on written and oral testimony of a group who created a working farm in Legsby, Lincolnshire.

Farm work was one of the occupations that could be carried out by conscientious objectors given exemption on condition they did civil work.

The show is framed by a meeting of contemporary actors (or as they refer to themselves, “the baby boomers”) discussing its relevance, and how it should be presented. The performance consists of short spoken monologues, interspersed with brief dramatic scenes illustrating stories remembered, many of them funny and audience involvement in chants and the waving of pledge cards.

We are taken through the campaign for peace and the notorious tribunal system that could not only decide a person’s status but could sentence objectors to prison. Women objectors are also subject to punishment.

Along with the official sanctions on conscientious objectors, there are the unofficial sackings and, as the war intensified, prejudice from whole sections of the community.

The creation of the Legsby working farm shifts the play’s focus away from the war to the way a community is developed and breaks down local prejudices.

In one moving scene, the real Don Sutherland, being played on stage by Ian Rushby, steps into the performance space aged ninety-nine to convince us he could still be part of the campaign.

The play is respectful of the conchies, clear and imaginative in its presentation. But it never really gives a sense of what they may have suffered, or what was at stake in the arguments of those objecting to war. It feels like an amiable and gentle version of the way things were.

Keith Mckenna