Peter Mortimer - poet, playwright, journalist, publisher - has lived in the North East for thirty years, and many of his books and plays have been published and performed here. He is used to writing about difficult places: against Foreign Office advice he wandered round Yemen; he set up a children's theatre group in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and, over one summer, walked the length of Britain with one dog and no money, dependent on the kindness of strangers to provide accommodation and food.
His books include: The Last of the Hunters: Life with the Fishermen in North Shields; I Married the Angel of the North (poetry); Off the Wall: the Journey of a Play; and Cool for Qat, which grew out of his commission to write a play about the 1930 Yemeni seamen's riot in South Shields; and Camp Shatila - a Writer's Chronicle, which grew from the two months towards the end of 2008, when he lived in Shatila Refugee Camp, Beirut.
In November 2013, Peter Mortimer visited Lebanon again, and on his return wrote about his visit for Newcastle's Journal. "I grew excited on this visit," he says, "by an idea slowly forming of inviting members of the Tyneside Jewish community to some future performance here by the Palestinians."
In an editorial, the Journal commented that "Mr Mortimer is a man of optimism and idealism - and there aren't too many of those in the Middle East. ... he is making an effort - and a few more people doing that in the Middle East would be most welcome."
Peter Mortimer's new full-length play for Cloud Nine Theatre Company, commissioned by the Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project, will be a major production staged to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One.
Death at Dawn is based on a real case, that of the young North Shields soldier William Hunter who was court-martialled and executed in France in 1916 for desertion. More than 300 soldiers were shot at dawn by the British Army in the Great War but Hunter's case is unusual because sentence was carried out even though the authorities believed at the time that he had signed on under-age. In almost every other similar case, the death sentence was reprieved. For reasons unknown, the sentence on Hunter was carried out. The play examines possible reasons and also explores the realities behind a policy that saw the army shoot its own men.
The play takes place on Tyneside, Merseyside, in Montreal, Canada and on the Western Front.
A professional cast of seven will be joined by around ten young drama students aged around 18 - 20 drawn from local North Tyneside schools and colleges. It will be directed by Jackie Fielding and has been funded by Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and North Tyneside Council.
Death at Dawn plays for approximately eight performances from Sept 1st - 6th, 2014 at The Linskill Centre, North Shields, and tickets will be available from Spring onwards.
Photograph © Dylan Mortimer 2011; used with permission.
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Last update: 10th January 2014