Conchies, a play about conscientious objectors coming together during World War II, will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The play, performed by theatre group A Certain Demographic, tells the story of how those opposed to fighting in the war faced persecution from both the public and the State. These conscientious objectors were mockingly known as ‘Conchies.’
The Conchies of the play are a group of several people who acquire farmland in Lincolnshire and, with none of them having any experience, set about building and running a working farm. As you’d expect things don’t go smoothly at first and the pacifists ironically fight among themselves. But over time they succeed, albeit with a bittersweet ending.
The key strength of the play is that it is based on five real-life people and actual events. The farm was in a small village, near Lincoln. Local Lincolnshire resident Ian Sharp spent four years researching the pacifist community in order to write the script for Conchies. “It is a remarkable story,” he says explaining:
“Young men and a few young women, from different parts of the country and from different backgrounds – artists, accountants, clerks, journalists, book-binders, out of work painters and decorators, and even a bespoke shirt cutter – left their city lives to farm rather than fight.”
‘Conchies’ performed to sell out audiences at The Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby last December and one special performance had an audience full of descendents of the CO community. One of those descendents is Oscar-winning actor Jim Broadbent, who described the play as an ‘amazing’ production describing it as a, “Really moving, very informative, a very complex and interesting piece of theatre.” Musician Damon Albarn was also in the audience and said the play was, “A powerful evocation; there was honestly not a dry eye in the theatre when I went with my family to watch it.”
At just one year short of his 100th birthday, Don Sutherland is a ‘conchie’ who was an original member of the pacifist community that farmed the Lincolnshire land. During the play he makes a cameo appearance and will do the same in some of the Edinburgh performances. At 99 he will most likely be the oldest performer at the festival.
Sutherland says of the play and his own ‘conchie’ experience:
“As perhaps the sole survivor of pacifist farming communities in Lincolnshire in the last war, I’m grateful that Ian has drawn the strings together in the performance ‘Conchies!’ at this Edinburgh Festival. “I say this with great sorrow for those who fought and never came back.”