Woodbine Willie: Poet and Padre

David Robinson
Searchlight Theatre
Greenside @ Nicolson Square

Woodbine Willie: Poet and Padre

Searchlight has brought to the stage a production that not only manages to peer into the loneliness and sorrow of the trenches but find some hope there in the warmth of the interactions betwen the increasingly weary but committed padre and his flock.

The Reverend Studdart Kennedy, or Woodbine Willie as he was more commonly known on account of his tendency to hand out packs of cigarettes to men along with Bibles, was one of the first Army Chaplains to situate himself on the front line, offering religious succour and support to the men.

David Robinson's performance is as fatherly and kind as is to be expected, Robinson can play these kindly mentor roles in his sleep, and his portrayal of Kennedy is no exception, weighing out the kindness and advice with a sturdy faith at its back. There are enough chinks in his armour to see the brief glints of sorrow and pain at the darkness all around him.

Ollie Ward takes the role of George Barlow, who stands in for all of Willie's flock, as well as acting as a sounding board for him to test his convictions in the face of desperate pain and uncertainty, between them talking wistfully of home and the women at home they miss and singing songs of home, interspersed with snippets from Kennedy's poems written on the front.

While the events and the way they play out are, for lack of a better word, predictable, it's still a resonant experience that manages to find humour and joy amidst the sorrow and grief still felt keenly a century after the guns stopped firing.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan