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
Written by Rupert Creed, Drummer Hodge is set principally in Dorchester in around 1900. The town was expanding although also feeling the effects of agricultural depression. It was a time of great technological and social change, with the status of women making an increasing impact. t centres around the Pope family (who ran the successful Eldridge Pope brewery) headed by Alfred Pope, his second wife Elizabeth and his fifteen children and, at the other end of the social scale, the Hodge family; Ben, who is unemployed and drinks heavily, Sara who struggles to hold the family together and their son Will.
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 the feminist campaigner Emily Hobhouse wrote a report opposing the brutal tactics used by the British in the war. This became a central issue and was supported in Dorchester by the congregational minister James McClune Uffen and his articulate daughter Gertrude. She became friends with Alfred Pope’s daughter Hilda and won her 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.”