Dover’s contribution to the Armistice Centenary in November will be a collaborative community production about the arrival of the body of the ‘Unknown Warrior’. Andrew Dawson tells the story.

Poster of soldier with flags

This November, as the nation commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, just under 650 performers will take over Dover Marine Station for five nights in a site-specific community production called Return of the Unknown (ROTU).

It is a collaboration between The Marlowe in Canterbury, the communities of east Kent and the Port of Dover. It is also part of a wider Pioneering Places programme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Historic England.

A professional creative team … has worked over the past year with amateur performers, youth groups and community choirs

A professional creative team from The Marlowe – actors, puppeteers and musicians – has worked over the past year with amateur performers, youth groups and community choirs to explore the story of the arrival at Dover of the body of the Unknown Warrior, destined for burial at Westminster Abbey. 

Large community projects

As well as being a major regional contribution to the commemorations, the production is the latest and most important focus for our ambition to be a catalyst and facilitator for large-scale projects made with, and for, our local communities. That means not only bringing our theatre-making expertise to bear, but also our ability to develop partnerships, nurture local talent and lead on major fundraising and marketing campaigns.

The collaboration with the Port of Dover has meant we have been able to serve a regeneration agenda, reflecting the port authority’s ambition to bring this neglected area to life through artistic interventions.

The project began a year ago with five community groups in east Kent towns being asked to look at how we remember. From this research, five powerful pieces of drama, written by our playwrights, were created and performed in each town in the week of Armistice Day – and watched by more than 600 people.

Second phase

From this came phase two. The professional creative team was drawn from the best Kent has to offer, and leading professionals from further afield have bolstered the core, locally sourced professional team. The script has been developed with James Baldwin, our Literary Associate, and the community groups. 

The second phase included working with academic advisors Mark Connelly and Helen Brooks and the Gateways to the First World War project, which challenged us to explore and push the project further.

Creative ambitions

The production will give us lots of learning to inform our ambitions for a model of a biennial inclusive, large-scale performance project centred on exploring the extraordinary stories of our region with the people who live here.

It will be the centrepiece of our ‘Everyone’s theatre’ initiative, dedicated to creating an inclusive, outward-looking organisation that serves the creative ambitions of our local communities. The Unknown Warrior’s final journey is paving the way for The Marlowe’s continuing journey.

Andrew Dawson is Head of Artistic Productions at The Marlowe.

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Photo of Andy Dawson