The Eleventh Hour
Rumpus Theatre Company
Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield
There’s a proliferation of plays being produced to commemorate 100 years since the end of World War I. Derbyshire-based Rumpus Theatre Company has added to the list with The Eleventh Hour, a look at how the Armistice was signed at 5AM on 11 November 1918 yet the ceasefire was planned for 11AM.
The delay was designed to get the message out to troops on different fronts that the hostilities were over. Yet about 2,700 men from all sides were killed in those last six hours.
Rumpus founder John Goodrum has written a fictitious account of how a family was torn apart by the events that took place in that short period—yet the play is based on fact.
It starts with the sound of gunfire as two soldiers take their positions on the front line. Slowly the noise abates, leading to an eerie silence.
Charlie Juster and Harry Furber are the men who are patriotic yet at the same time are slightly afraid of what might happen to them. David Gilbrook and David Martin play the pair with pathos; there is a great camaraderie but also an inevitability about the outcome which could befall one or both of them.
A lot of the time when the fighting has subsided they talk about mundane things including the dried biscuits they’ve been sent from home and how they could really do with a cup of tea.
When the action moves to the Furbers’ home in London, the humdrum side of life is again highlighted. George Furber, a delightful John Lyons, spends the day reading his paper because he’s got nothing else to do. His wife Edie, played touchingly by Karen Henson, wonders whether there is enough turnip bread to go around.
Sarah Wynne Kordas adds a few charming touches as Emmy, the daughter-in-law who writes tender letters to her husband and yearns for the day when he’ll be back home.
Goodrum directs sensitively, bringing out the ordinariness of life at home which contrasts starkly with the brutality and inhumanity of war. He also addresses the huge disparity between the optimism of the family and the soldiers’ inability to escape from death that is all around them.
Goodrum also designs the set, a basic but clever arrangement in which the trenches quickly disappear to reveal the Furbers’ living room.
There are some lighter moments in the play, with Charlie taking his boots off in the trenches and counting his toes to make sure they are all there while George relates a couple of funny tales and complains about the boy next door using their outside lavatory.
The ending is particularly poignant; no one in the audience could fail to be moved by it. Whether it took on greater significance because the performance was only a couple of days before Armistice Day is open to debate.
The Eleventh Hour is coming to the end of a 15-date tour. At times it’s uncomfortable viewing—but it’s well performed and staged. It’s a fitting story to mark the anniversary of the end of the Great War.