“War creates barbarity. It is the very essence of barbarism. That is the reason why any person with a spark of conscience would refuse to have anything to do with it.” Albrow.

Devils On Horseback
Saturday 19th May
Zion Baptist Church, Cambridge.

The evolution of Tim Crook's play, Devils on Horseback, from a one act performance into the full interactive theatre experience developed by Creative Vortex was welcomed with enthusiasm in Cambridge last night.

The team of performers from Goldsmiths' College, London, brought to life with skill, humour and drama the characters penned by writer Professor Tim Crook. “All the characters are real and are about 60% accurate with a dash of dramatic license. But we had quite a lot of information on Mayor Wayland so he is about 80% true to life.”

It is Mayor Wayland that leads the Deptford Military Tribunal hearings of Conscientious Objectors Henry Rivet Albrow and Henry Haskett in the secret trials that took place between 1916 and 1918 in Deptford's council chambers. The first performance by Creative Vortex was held in those actual chambers almost 100 years later bringing to light the mistreatment, demonisation and torture of those daring to object to being enlisted or refusing to take part in any war effort whatsoever; “Absolutist Objectors”.

Using the period venue of Zion Baptist Church and setting the scene by playing music from the era prior to the start of the play primed the audience perfectly as we waited to go in to take our seats. Host, Pastor Gale Richards, introduced us to octogenarian Dorothy who had been attending ZBC since she was a child. She was able to tell us about the original gas lighting for which the brackets still exist on the walls but are no longer used. The setting, being warmly lit, evoked that original era and as we mused on it, we were suddenly joined by Wayland and Shultz in full costume and deep in discussion on the conditions for the hearings they were about to preside over. They continued to speak together, then to us, as if we were part of the players in the scene and must take our seats at the Tribunal. And so the experience began.

Scenes were played out with actors using all the floor space around the main altar and even walking right up to the audience achieving a connection with people rather than leaving them as mere spectators. This extension of the stage into the audience's domain included the players serving snacks in the interval and chatting, in character, about the dramatic end to Act 1.

The female characters, whether incidental like Mrs Otton or integral to the story like Beatrice Drapper, have been cleverly written to challenge the male chauvinism of the time. A woman did in fact serve on the Tribunal, although it was not Beatrice herself, and Tim Crook has used that fact to build an interesting character whose real life circumstances lend themselves perfectly to the development of the philosophical dilemma faced by Albrow when he appears before the Tribunal.

Act 1 had established the brutally unforgiving attitude Mayor Wayland towards the C.O.s, and it was quite disarming to stand face to face with him as he spoke charmingly but with quite bigoted attitudes of the war, women and society in general. Immersing the audience in this way as the episode unfolded added depth and substance to the conflicting thoughts the play provokes.

How can a C.O. reconcile themselves to the fact that others are dying in battle to save their country while he or she remains aloof to the point of arrogance in maintaining an anti-war position?
Yet, how can a Tribunal act justly if its action oppresses poor people by sending youth out as mere cannon fodder for the will of Masters?
We were not just judging two dimensional characters on a stage but being invited to spend an evening with them and the trials of their lives that affected their attitudes.

Tim's play depicts how brave C.O.s of WW1 were ostracised for their actions. While many were imprisoned, others were bullied and harassed to death, if not actually shot outright. Sadly, we know some even took their own lives.

Local historian, Jo Costin, connected the Debtford C.O.s stories with those of the Cambridge C.O.s who fared better and at least had public hearings. Jo says,
“I've recently started putting my research into local conscientious objectors online, on the Lives of the First World War website, and have created a community for conscientious objectors whose cases were heard at the Cambridge Borough Tribunal here:
and a community for those who were arrested in Cambridge under the Military Service Act here:

There were opportunities throughout the evening to discuss the play with Tim Crook and he brought together all that came out of those discussions in the Q&A at the end. It was quite emotional to hear how Tim had written in aspects of his own father's post war story and given one character some typical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; a condition that was at first not recognised by health workers and, even after WW2, under treated and never discussed by communities.

It was a joy to meet the cast and the behind the scenes crew who are all totally dedicated in presenting a polished performance. The visionary input of Ben Laumann and Tom Powell has created a troupe that works superbly together and effectively uses all aspects of the visual arts and music to present a uniquely immersive evening. Hand made costumes and delightful performance of opera arias in the interval by producer, Tom just shows how multi talented the young people of Creative Vortex are! For info on their next performance in Leeds check out their facebook page, Creative Vortex @CreativeVortexProductions

Since Cambridge Stop The War had co hosted the play as part of International Conscientious Objector Day events, we asked people to sign a card to the South Korean Embassy in London asking for the immediate release of 250 young C.O.s that are currently being held in prison there.

For online action for Israeli Conscientious Objectors please go to:

Words Zareen, pix Zeenath

Tuesday 15th May is International Conscientious Objector Day.
To find out about future events find us on Twitter or Facebook: @CamStopTheWar