Once a Coward – a Rehearsed Reading
Once a Coward by Benjamin Stratton at Above the Arts Theatre
I was privileged enough to be invited to watch the Rehearsed Reading and world premiere of the new and upcoming play Once A Coward written by Benjamin Stratton. Based on a true story about a man called Thomas Highgate who was shot for desertion at age 19, during WW1, this piece of unique theatre really makes you think and the timing of the performance so close to Remembrance Day was perfect. Now usually with a rehearsed reading you only get a glimpse into what the show will be but that was not the case! Even without lighting, set, props or costumes this was a moving and brilliant piece of theatre.
Let’s start with the script as that’s the heart of the piece. Once a Coward is written by Benjamin Stratton. Stratton is already a successful performer himself and has begun to now venture into the writing element of the industry and he does not disappoint! He clearly has done his research with this piece and it was perfectly put together. It was heartfelt and moving with comedic moments perfectly timed throughout! The flow of the piece was fantastic and if this is the level at a rehearsed reading I can only imagine what the finishing piece by Stratton will be!
The cast consisted of 7 males and 1 female. Everybody doubled up on roles in this version except the two male roles whose story we are following. Once a Coward is the story of a man who is fighting for his Great Uncle to be honoured and have his name installed on the Shoreham village memorial while we jump back and forth in time to see the life and death of Thomas Highgate himself. The role of Thomas Highgate is played by Will Carey. Carey has a natural vulnerability and charm that makes you really route for his character. He had gripping chemistry with the other actors in the scenes but most importantly with the love interested Mary McNulty played beautifully by the captivating Hannah Boyce.
Boyce as the only female member of the cast stood out in every scene and had a natural flair for comedy when she took on the role of the Mother, leaving the audience in fits of the giggles with her relatable portrayal. She also proved to have a beautiful voice in a small section of singing. David Parton played Terence Highgate the man fighting for his Great Uncle’s memory and he had a strong, clear voice and commanded your attention throughout.
The other cast members included Andrew Bowerman, Daniel Clarkson, Chris Jenkins, Niall Kerrigan and Ben Thornton. I’d love to speak about each of these brilliant actors individually but this review would go on forever at the level of talent! Stratton was very lucky to have such a strong cast! They all played multiple roles and could have you hating them in one scene and feeling sorry for them in the next. With plenty of chances to stand out as an actor due to small monologue moments not a single actor missed a trick, topping the performance off perfectly!
The staging was clever and perfect in the space, which was just the right level of intimacy! You couldn’t help but picture the way that this show would be staged! It is a real shame that this was a one night performance as I’m sure it could have sold a weeks’ worth on word of mouth alone.
Watch this space big things to come from this show and writer! This is not the end of Once a Coward so watch this space!
Review by Sarah-Leanne Howe