The Accrington Pals

Written by Peter Whelan

Thurs 1st March - Sat 3rd March & Tues 6th March - Sat 10th March 1984

Directed by Peter Corrigan

The young men of a Lancashire mill town leave their homes and lovers for the trenches of the Somme. A moving and often comic evocation of the suffering of the women they left behind.

AuthorPeter Whelan

Peter Whelan (b 1931)

Playwright, Peter Whelan was born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent. He started work at the Stoke Town Planning Office as an assistant surveyor and his varied list of former jobs includes farm worker, manservant, demolition worker, hall porter, advertising copywriter and English teacher. In 1950 and 1951 he undertook his mandatory 2-years of National Service which must have had a profound influence on his writing as a number of his plays have a military conscription theme - notably 'A Russian in the Woods' and 'The Accrington Pals'.

His works include seven plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the first of which was 'Captain Swing' written in 1979, and the list of others includes 'The Herbal Bed', 'A Russian in the Woods' and 'The School of Night'. He has received a number of nominations from the Writer's Guild and he won their 'Best regional theatre play award' in 1996. He is an Honorary Associate Artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

PlayThe Accrington Pals

'The Accrington Pals' is a moving and hard-hitting play set in Accrington during the first few years of the First World War. While the story itself is fiction, the background is reality. The Pals were formed and fought just as they are described as doing in the play. The play was first published in 1982, but was first presented in 1981 by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

'The Accrington Pals' follows the story of the innocent and enthusiastic men who volunteered their services to their country after Kitchener's calls for a New Army. Their experiences of life on the Western Front are contrasted with the women who are left behind in Accrington, women who come together as friends when facing financial, social and sexual deprivation, as well as being thrown into the social changes that came along with the absence of many men. The main characters, too, are contrasted; May, as independent, hard-working, fruit and veg stall holder, Tom, her lodger, as optimistic and idealistic and Eva, May's trusted and generous confidante and sweetheart of Ralph. The play has fun and light-hearted moments, which are starkly contrasted with the terrifying reality hundreds of men faced at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The Bench Production

The Accrington Pals poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. After the last 3 performances the play was followed by a free performance entitled 'Women and War'; a Bench Fringe Theatre production given free of charge.


MayNicola Scadding
TomDavid Brown
RalphBill Radmall
EvaDawn Dobbison
SarahJeanette Dobney
BerthaSiobhan Hayward
AnnieJane Hart
ArthurDavid Penrose
ReggieSaul Hewish
CSM RiversPeter Woodward


Director Peter Corrigan
Stage Manager Robbie Cattermole
Assistant Stage Manager Frances Brettell
Lighting Paul Francis
Sound Colin Hardy
Piano Janet Peek
Set Peter Holding
Poster Peter Woodward
Publicity Penny Cameron
Photographs Chris Shaw
House Manager John Scadding

Director's Notes

We have not sought an accurate rendition of Accrington historically or geographically. We have sought to avoid anachronistic behaviour so that the audience may see it within the context of Accrington 1916 but without losing those contemporary parallels of which the writer speaks. If the audience becomes unduly worried about the dialect, then they and we have somehow missed our way. Our concern has been to explore and express the self-made difficulties man puts between himself and his fellow man - when philosophies stifle the sound of the beating heart - when mere words come before deeds. Throughout the play there is a recurrent theme of water seen perhaps as a relentless fate, but surely blood is thicker than water?

Peter Whelan writes "These mothers, wives, daughters and lovers of the Pals didn't knuckle under sheepishly to authority in the way I had supposed." He gives Eva the line, "They treat us like children but we will not behave like children." I hope and pray that if or when we are put to the test we also will not behave like children and hide our heads from that which frightens us.

"We are all crossing no-man's land now."

Peter Corrigan

Programme Notes

This note appeared in the programme: "With the generous help of Bill Turner, local historian of Accrington, we have mounted an exhibition about the Pals. In return Mr Turner would be interested to get in touch with anyone who has any connection with the Pals."

Sadly, Bill Turner died in 2007, but his work to establish and maintain an archive of all the Accrington Pals continues with other archivists. Any enquiries about the history of the Pals should be directed to Accrington Local Studies Library, St James St, Accrington.


The NewsJanice Macfarlane

Pals deserved better

Half an hour after the end of the Bench Theatre production of 'The Accrington Pals' I still had a lump in my throat. But don't get the the impression that Peter Whelan's intense and moving story - about a real-life battalion wiped out in the trenches, and their women left at home in Lancashire - is just a tear-jerker. Sentimentality has no place in this play, it leaves simple pathos behind. Under Peter Corrigan's direction, the cast of ten turned in fine, solid performances. Fittingly, it is the fine women who take the bow at the end, since they represent the human qualities that endure and survive once male comradeship, loyalty, and even heroism have passed away. Central to the excellence of the performance was the relationship between May, the Amazonian, sharp-tongued spirit of free enterprise, and the self-possessed Eva, who in her quiet sensible way, knows the weakness of her man yet loves him for it. Nicola Scadding and Dawn Dobbison were towers of strength as these wonderful women.

The smaller roles rounded them out beautifully. Every part was important but I was especially taken with the way Jeanette Dobney made the most of Sarah's humour, and Jane Hart's transition from shrew to a woman falling to pieces, as Annie. Peter Woodward commanded the men in every sense as Company Sergeant Major Rivers, adoptive father to the Pals when they join the new family of comrades. He beats the irresistible drum that lures the lads off to war, creating the final divide between dreamy Tom (played with sensitivity by David Brown) and May.

What really choked me about this powerful production, as good as anything you could hope to see in any local commercial theatre, was that it had opened to an audience of 18 and still had empty seats on Friday night. It deserves the best possible support for the rest of its run - tonight, and from Tuesday to Saturday next week at Havant Arts Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Bookings on Havant 472700.

The News, 3rd March 1984

Letter to the Editor

Bench Leaders

A few well-deserved words of praise for the Bench Theatre Company at the Havant Civic Arts Centre, performing the stimulating and rewarding story 'The Accrington Pals'. This excellent band of actors should be supported by the people of Havant (and even Portsmouth) for their work is of a very high standard. They are never afraid to put on controversial plays like 'Bent' and 'The Pals'. Now much awaited is 'What the Butler Saw' by Joe Orton.

Malcolm Steer, Wilson Grove, Southsea, 23rd March 1984

Production Photographs