Playwright: Rupert Creed
Performance venue: Thomas Hardye School
First performance: 1 April 2014
Play Office: Former County Library, Colliton Park, Dorchester DT1 1XJ
Director: Rupert Creed
Assistant director: Sue Wylie
Designer: Dawn Allsopp
Wardrobe supervisor: Sara Hope
Music director: Tim Laycock
Technical director: Andy Worth
Lighting director: Ollie Titterington
Stage managers: Mike Hayes and Andrew Munro
Play officer: Kate Hebditch
Drummer Hodge is a play written by Rupert Creed and was commissioned by the Association as the sixth community play of recent times. The story is set principally in Dorchester in around 1900 at a time when the town was expanding although feeling the effects of agricultural depression. It was also a time of great technological change with social change particularly in the status of women making an increasing impact.
A major employer in the town was the successful Eldridge Pope brewery and its head at the time was Alfred Pope who also had interests in property development and was the father of fifteen children, fourteen of them by his second wife, Elizabeth.
At the other end of the social scale is the Hodge family. Ben is unemployed and drinks heavily. Sara struggles to hold the family together and takes particular pride in young Will, keen for him to stay on at school and, unlike his father, make something of his life.
Dorchester was a garrison town and home to the Dorsetshire Regiment whose first battalion had recently seen service on the North West Frontier of India. A member of the regiment was Private Sam Vickery whose bravery in the Tirah campaign won him the Victoria Cross.
The Boer War intervenes. The Pope family takes the lead in assembling a force of volunteers to fight in South Africa alongside the Dorsetshire Regiment. To Sara’s horror Will, urged on by his father, enlists as a drummer boy. But Will is not made for the brutality of war as depicted in scenes which show the treatment of Boer women and children, victims of the scorched earth policy being pursued by the British. Caught trying to help the women Will is punished and sent out into the field where he is shot by a sniper.
Meanwhile led by the local Congregational Minister, James McClune Uffen and his articulate daughter Gertrude, opposition to the tactics used in the war, as highlighted in a report by the feminist campaigner Emily Hobhouse, become a central issue back home. Gertrude becomes friends with one of Alfred’s four daughters, Hilda who is won over to the cause.
Will’s tragic death has the effect of uniting his parents and the play moves on rapidly through the first years of the twentieth century. Will gives up drinking and finds work on a farm. Will’s baby brother is offered an office job in the Brewery. But then in August 1914 he and his parents are faced with the challenge encapsulated in the famous recruitment poster “Your Country Needs You”.
Observing, and as the play progresses commenting on the action, is Thomas Hardy whose poetry is interwoven with the script. The final words of the play are the lines of Hardy’s poem In the ‘Time of the Breaking of Nations’ with its optimistic conclusion echoed by the whole cast: “War’s annals will cloud into night, Ere their story die.”