THE tragedy of the First World War returns to Bournemouth town hall tomorrow for the world premier of a new play, which will be performed in the historic council chamber.

It’s the first time that the chamber has been used for such an event since the council took over the building as a town hall in 1921.

Before this, the building served as a hospital for the wounded soldiers returning from the horror of the trenches.

The play, Shot at Dawn, is written by John Foster, Bournemouth’s BAFTA award winning playwright and is produced by Bournemouth theatre company, Doppelganger Productions.

John, who has written extensively for television and film, wanted to mark the centenary of the First World War in a unique way, setting it right in the heart of the town.

His piece of original theatre, specially commissioned by the Arts by the Sea Festival, tells the story of the hundreds of British Tommys who were shot by their own leaders for desertion or cowardice, when they were suffering from what we now know to be post traumatic stress disorder.

In order to reveal this often overlooked tragedy of the war, Foster spent the summer practically in solitude, constructing this courtroom drama from meticulously researched firsthand accounts and archived public records, which he found to be “devastating in their detail and agonising to read.”

Foster forces us to confront this barbarity by giving us a glimpse into the lives of two young men that served in the Dorsetshire Regiment, who were victims of these trials.

“The play deals with a subject matter many will want to forget ever existed.

But within that, lies a compelling and often heartwrenching story,” says Adam Jessop, who plays the role of Squire.

The play deliberately draws on the historic associations the town hall has with the first world war to add atmosphere and depth to the production.

The town hall building opened in 1881 and was originally the exclusive Mont Dore Hotel. What is now used as the council chamber was originally a theatre for its well-heeled guests.

When war broke out the hotel was immediately pressed into service as a hospital in the autumn of 1914.

Soldiers treated in the building became part of Bournemouth's folklore and it is even said that the building is haunted by one of the soldiers who died there.

Wednesday’s audience will certainly not see a play about the glory and honour of war; indeed, Russell Biles, who plays the condemning Judge Samuel Weston, hopes that some among them will “feel a little uneasy when departing,” given the uncomfortable truths that the play exposes.

If they do, Bournemouth’s council chamber, and the actors within, will have played their part in changing our perspective on the enduring history of the Great War.

n For more information and tickets for Shot At Dawn, please visit