A new play inspired by the heart-wrenching story of a choir which lost all but one of its members in the carnage of the First World War will be raising money for two veterans’ charities.
Proceeds from the play, Dinner with Otto, by Tom George Carroll, from Gorsedd, near Holywell, will be going to The Royal British Legion North Wales and Woody’s Lodge in Colwyn Bay.
Lance-Corporal Samuel Evans, the sole survivor of the choir of the 17th battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, came from Rhos, near Wrexham, and their story was one of several that galvanised Tom’s creative instincts.
Coincidentally, Rhos is also home to The Stiwt, one of two historic theatres where play will be in September. The other is The Little Theatre in Rhyl.
Tom, who hails originally from Liverpool, researched for more than a year before starting to write the hard-hitting play which shines a light not just the monstrosities of war but how surviving soldiers’ lives were irrevocably shattered once they arrived home.
He purposefully set the play in his adopted home of Wales where the central character in a cast of eight, 23-year-old Ben Davies, returns from the ravages of war.
Tom says several of the events and experiences they undergo are based on real life events and biographies like those of the Lost Choir, young hopefuls who competed in the Wales National Eisteddfod before being posted to fight in the French trenches.
Two years later, at the 1917 National Eisteddfod in Birkenhead, the choir was again called to the stage but this time it consisted of only one surviving member, Lance-Corporal Evans. All the others had been slaughtered in the war.
Poignantly, it was also the eisteddfod where the tragic poet Hedd Wyn, or Ellis Evans from Trawsfynydd, was honoured posthumously and the bardic chair draped in black after he was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.
Tom, who writes under the name Tom George, said: “Hedd Wyn and those choir members made the ultimate sacrifice. It was important to me to make my play as realistic as possible, so I undertook extensive research on the events of the time, the lives of soldiers returning to north Wales, the expectations that were made of them, experiences they went through.
“I wanted to enable the audience to see my characters, albeit entirely fictional, as real people, to accept the play’s narrative as being feasible, completely believable.”
“It’s a tough watch but compelling. I aimed to make people feel like they wanted to turn away but couldn’t because they needed to see the story through to its conclusion.”
Having grown up in Liverpool where he developed his love of theatre and storytelling, Tom carved out a highly successful career in accountancy before selling his company, Tom Carroll Associates, which had offices in St Helens and on the Wirral.
He now lives in Flintshire, and though he remains an undisputed expert at number crunching, for the last two years he has invested every spare moment researching and writing Dinner with Otto.
Tom is passionate about using the play to raise money for the Royal British Legion and Woody’s Lodge which was set up in memory of Royal Marine Paul “Woody” Woodland, of South Wales. He lost his life in a training exercise before he was due to return for a second tour of duty in Afghanistan. The charity followed through on his dream to one day build a log cabin retreat. Today Woody’s Lodge is a social hub which guides veterans to the help and support they need to re-engage with their families and communities.
His deep-seated feeling that Dinner with Otto had the potential to go far was made evident at a low-key preview performed by Llangollen Twenty Club in spring. It received a standing ovation.
Tom said: “It does hugely important work to help battle surviving soldiers, many suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. It is exactly the sort of charity which I hope Dinner with Otto will raise money for long term.”
From the moment he started writing it Tom was resolved that the horrors of this play would not lie in the blood and gore of the front lines but in the crushed personalities of soldiers thrown into the subsequent battlefield of civilian life.
The two-act play opens a century ago in March 1919 amid a scene of troops coming home from war, numbed, physically and mentally paralysed, shaken to the core.
Tom says: “They were left unaided to fight for survival against a tide of unrealistic expectations, engulfed by blithe platitudes, their already broken spirits drowned by new unforgiving pressures all around them.
“It is made all the more relevant as we commemorate 100 years since its setting.”
Dinner with Otto, presented by TGC Productions is at Rhyl Little Theatre on Friday and Saturday, September 13 and 14 and at The Stiwt, Wrexham, on September 27, at 7.30pm.
Tickets are £12, including a souvenir programme, with all proceeds going to veterans’ charities.