National Theatre of Scotland Takes Part in UK-Wide Somme Commemoration

By: Jul. 01, 2016
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Over a hundred volunteers led by the National Theatre of Scotland were part of a UK-wide event that took place today, 1 July 2016, as a modern memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK's arts programme for the First World War centenary, the work was conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre.

The specially commissioned event saw around 1500 voluntary participants dressed in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK. The National Theatre of Scotland was one of 27 organisations which collaborated on the work, called 'we're here because we're here'. The project saw over a hundred young men take part, including first-time performers alongside those recruited from a wide variety of Scottish organisations such as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow Clyde College, City of Glasgow College, Eden Court Theatre, Scottish Youth Theatre and the Tron Theatre.

The project's artistic team is led by Simon Sharkey (National Theatre of Scotland's Associate Director Learn) who directs in Glasgow and Shetland; Brigid McCarthy, Movement Director (Glasgow and Shetland); Vince Virr, Associate Director, Glasgow and Chris Grant, Associate Director, Shetland. 'we're here because we're here' follows another National Theatre of Scotland large participatory project led by Simon Sharkey, who recently directed the finale of Granite, at Marishcal College, Aberdeen in April 2016.

'we're here because we're here' was produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the National Theatre, working in close collaboration with partners including: Lyric Theatre Belfast, Manchester Royal Exchange, National Theatre Wales, Northern Stage, Playhouse, Derry-Londonderry, Salisbury Playhouse, Sheffield Theatres and Theatre Royal Plymouth.

The project breaks new ground in terms of its scale, breadth, reach and the number of partners and participants involved. This is the first time three national theatres have worked together on a joint project, and the first time so many theatres have worked together on a UK-wide participation project.

The participants who walked the streets today were a reminder of the 19,240 men who were killed on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Each participant represented an individual soldier who was killed that day. The work is partly inspired by tales of sightings during and after the First World War by people who believed they had seen a dead loved one.

The participants wore historically accurate uniforms, representing 15 of the regiments that suffered losses in the first day of the Battle. The soldiers did not speak, but at points throughout the day would sing the song 'we're here because we're here', which was sung in the trenches during the First World War. They handed out cards to members of the public with the name and regiment of the soldier they represented, and, where known, the age of the soldier when he died on 1 July 1916.

The daylong work ran from 7am to 7pm and covered the width and breadth of the UK, from Shetland to Penzance - taking the memorial to contemporary Britain and bringing an intervention into people's daily lives where it was least expected. In Glasgow sites the young men visited included shopping centres, train stations, a museum, public squares and bridges and in Shetland, a ferry terminal, ancient sites, beaches, schools and town halls.

The volunteers were men aged between 16-52, reflecting the men who would have fought in the Somme. They came together to rehearse in theatres across the UK over a month-long period in the run-up to the performance. 'we're here because we're here' is one of the largest arts participation projects ever staged in the UK, with hundreds of additional volunteers working behind the scenes.

Jeremy Deller said: "I wanted to make a contemporary memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, one that moved around the UK with an unpredictability in which the participants took the work directly to the public."

Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, said: "This work by Jeremy Deller is a truly national piece of theatre and is a powerful way to remember the men who went off to fight 100 years ago. I also hope it will serve as a catalyst to strengthen ties with theatres and communities across the UK."

Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, said: "1 July 1916 saw 57,470 casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, of whom nearly 20,000 died: it was the bloodiest day in British military history. Taking part in 'we're here because we're here' has given hundreds of young people across the UK the chance to find out more about the Somme, and in some cases discover the stories of family members who fought in the war. Working alongside brilliant artists, directors and theatres on this astonishing project will be an experience they will never forget."

Simon Sharkey, Associate Director (Learn) said: "To have been involved in what is an unprecedented UK-wide participatory arts project has been a truly fantastic learning opportunity for these young Scottish men. The project has not only offered audiences nationwide a unique public theatrical experience, it is also a fitting way to mark the anniversary of a battle which should never be forgotten."

The project was supported by: Aberystwyth Arts Centre, The Belgrade Theatre, Bolton Octagon, Bristol Old Vic, Storyhouse, Left Coast, Leicester Curve, Nuffield Theatre, Oldham Coliseum, Pontio, Shetland Arts, Sutton Coldfield College BMet, The Artrix Bromsgrove, The Garrick Lichfield and Volcano.

'we're here because we're here' was made possible by an Ambition for Excellence Award from Arts Council England, with additional support from Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Creative Scotland and Art Fund. 14-18 NOW is principally funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, and by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

'we're here because we're here' was commissioned by 14-18 NOW, and conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre. It was produced by Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the National Theatre with the following partners:

Lyric Theatre Belfast

Manchester Royal Exchange

National Theatre of Scotland

National Theatre Wales

Northern Stage

Playhouse Derry-Londonderry

Salisbury Playhouse

Sheffield Theatres

Theatre Royal Plymouth

Creative Credits:


Director - Simon Sharkey (National Theatre of Scotland)

Movement Director - Brigid McCarthy


Associate Director - Vince Virr

Workshop Assistant - Robbie Gordon

Producer - Dawn Taylor

Assistant Producer - Stephanie Hunter

Senior Stage Manager - Alison Brodie

Stage Managers - RosAnna Stone, Sarah Scarlett, Valerie Rickis, Lauren Roberts, Siobhan McIntyre, David Young and Elleanor Taylor.

Costume Supervisor - Stephanie Thorburn

Costume Assistants - Morna Macleod, Lisa Sangster & Siobhan McKenna

Press and Marketing - Joseph Blythe

Hairdressers - Alice Rocks

Support volunteers - Lynsay Cruickshanks and Vincent Maguire


Associate Director - Chris Grant

Workshop Facilitator - Christopher Wright

Producer for Event Day - Karen Allan (National Theatre of Scotland)

Stage Manager & Project Manager - Lisa Ward

Costume Supervisor - Cara McDiarmid

Costume Assistants - Letty Bishop, Ellie Coutts, Roo Callaghan

Deputy Stage Manager - Ashlea Tulloch

Assistant Stage Managers - Lauren Doughton, Amanda Shearer, Sarah Thomson, Rosie Rowland, Lorna McKay

Press and Marketing - Adam McDougall

First Aider - Emma Davis

14-18 NOW is a programme of extraordinary arts experiences connecting people with the First World War, as part of the UK's official centenary commemorations. It aims to engage as many people as possible with the First World War, exploring how the war has impacted on the society we live in now. 14-18 NOW commissions new work by leading contemporary artists from all art forms, inspired by the period 1914-1918. The commemorative period is marked by three key seasons - the first season centred around 4 August 2014 (Anniversary of the Declaration of War), the second is March to November 2016 (anniversary of the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme) and the last in 2018 (centenary of Armistice Day). 14-18 NOW is responsible for the UK tour of the iconic poppy sculptures by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper. 14 -18 NOW is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and by additional fundraising. 14-18 NOW has commissioned over 80 artworks to date that have been seen by over 20 million people.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre is one of Britain's leading producing theatres. Founded in 1913 by Sir Barry Jackson, Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company rapidly became one of the most famous and exciting theatre companies in the country launching the careers of an array of many great British actors including Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Edith Evans, Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi, Elizabeth Spriggs, Albert Finney and many more. In 2013 the company celebrated its centenary.

The REP's aim is to inspire a lifelong love of theatre in the diverse communities of Birmingham and beyond. As well as presenting over 60 productions on its three stages every year, the theatre tours its productions nationally and internationally, showcasing theatre made in Birmingham. The commissioning and production of new work lies at the core of The REP's programme and over the last 15 years the company has produced more than 130 new plays.

The theatre's learning and participation programme is the best of any cultural organisation in the city and in the past year The REP has engaged with 4500 young people and 2600 adults through its learning and participation programme equating to 30,000 individual educational sessions. The REP is also committed to nurturing new talent through its youth theatre groups, The Young REP, its professional artist development scheme, REP Foundry, plus a new initiative, FURNACE which offers local people opportunities to develop new talents.

4 August 2014 marked 100 years since the start of the First World War. In recognition of this significant milestone the Government is leading a five-year commemorative programme of national ceremonial events, cultural and educational activity and community engagement. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, DCMS, manages this cross government programme working with key delivery partners including Imperial War Museums, 14-18 NOW, Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England.

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. @heritagelottery #UnderstandingWW1

Other HLF-funded First World War projects include:

• First World War Galleries, Imperial War Museum London - £6.5m

• The Yorkshire Film Archive - £52,400

• HMS Caroline, the last surviving First World War battleship - £12m

• Herts at War - £98,400

• 1914 London B-type 'Battle' Bus, which drove out to the Western Front - £750,000

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people's lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries - from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, we are investing £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

2014 - 2018 marks the centenary of the First World War, a landmark anniversary for Britain and the world. IWM is marking the centenary by leading a vibrant, five-year programme of cultural activities across the world. This year is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. For more information visit

The National Theatre of Scotland is dedicated to playing the great stages, arts centres, village halls, schools and site-specific locations of Scotland, the UK and internationally. As well as creating ground-breaking productions and working with the most talented theatre-makers, the National Theatre of Scotland produces significant community engagement projects, innovates digitally and works constantly to develop new talent. Central to this is finding pioneering ways to reach current and new audiences and to encourage people's full participation in the Company's work. With no performance building of its own, the Company works with existing and new venues and companies to create and tour theatre of the highest quality. Founded in 2006, the Company, in its short life, has become a globally significant theatrical player, with an extensive repertoire of award-winning work. The National Theatre of Scotland is supported by the Scottish Government.


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