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The Man and the Donkey - The Customs House, South Shields

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 20th May 2015 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge


The Man and the Donkey – The Customs House, South Shields


On the very same day that marks the centenary of his death, the story of South Shields’ very own local hero once again graces the stage of The Customs House. The tale of John Simpson Kirkpatrick is one of remarkable heroism, extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice.

Yet, one cannot help but wonder, as the people of his hometown wander past the memorial erected in his honour, outside the pub which bears his name, how much they really know of this man and his feats.

Born in South Shields on 6th July 1892, Kirkpatrick became a hero in Australia during the Gallipoli campaign in World War One. Serving as a stretcher-bearer with the Australian Army Medical Corps, he used his donkey-handling skills (honed on a beach back home, as a youngster) to help rescue more than 300 soldiers and transport them from the frontline to the safety of the medical stations located at Anzac Cove. He achieved this in a mere 24 days, before being killed at the tender age of 22.

This commemoratory production rightfully pays tribute to the man and his achievements. Playwright Valerie Laws chronicles Kirkpatrick’s journey from boy to man through a series of vignette-like snapshot scenes, calling upon the cast of six to change characters, costumes and accents in rapid succession. Jackie Fielding directs with a deft touch which, whilst focusing on Kirkpatrick’s extraordinary heroism, does not allow the piece to become overly-sentimental. The horrors of war are never far from view and are effectively reconstructed via James Henshaw’s lighting design and Chris Allen’s sound design.

The entire cast are flawless but special mention must be made of Jamie Brown, who portrays John Simpson Kirkpatrick with enormous skill and genuine humility.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 23rd May 2015

Picture credit: Craig Leng.



1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Many thanks, Steve. Flawless - high praise indeed.
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