Hot on the heels of last month’s vampire drama They Only Come At Night: Resurrection, comes another co-production between the Lowry and site specific company Slung Low. Premiering as part of the ‘No Boundaries’ season, Beyond the Front Line explores the friction and ties between the civilian population, and the armed forces who serve us.
A promenade piece that takes place outside on the Lowry Plaza, Beyond brings the war abroad to our doorstep: Salford is under attack from the enemy and the British Army has taken up a position of defense. Under the dramatic guise of UN Inspectors, the audience are asked to inspect the war zone; inevitably we become enmeshed in the conflict.
Director Alan Lane is big on detail. Two hundred students from Salford University have been drafted in to play nurses and soldiers. There are searchlights positioned on top of a nearby office block. Explosions and mortar fire follow; ushered into the back of an army truck, we hear a young soldier’s story (there’s even a whiff of cordite under the floor). The final scene takes place in an army hospital, to the strains of a requiem, specially composed by Heather Fenoughty and sung in Latin by the Wakefield Community Gospel Choir.
This is bold, ambitious theatre and quite moving. But at just an hour, it feels frustratingly brief and underdeveloped - a three act drama with the middle one missing. Four monologues have been specially written for the piece. With the audience randomly shepherded into four separate groups, we only get to hear one; in Group 1, it was the tale of loveably gormless Welsh Private ‘Vespa’ (an outstanding turn by Daniel Rigby).
Last month, local newspapers in Salford carried the sad news that one of the area’s sons had lost his life in service. There’s no sense of how a tragedy like this impacts on either family or community life; a missed opportunity. Finally, there’s the chance to write a postcard to a soldier serving abroad (one message in particular caught my eye - ‘You deserve better’); as a dramatic closer, it’s a bit of an anti-climax.
But these are minor quibbles. Beyond The Front Line takes risks and in an age of cosy, play-safe theatre, that has to be applauded. Respect to Robert Robson and the Lowry for supporting something so adventurous.