Trench visitors welcomed to hell

MATT LAWREY
Last updated 11:04 19/04/2012
Trench warfare
OVER THE TOP: Actors Joseph Knowles, Adam Lines and Toby Gwynne prepare for battle on the WWI trench set built by Dramatix Theatre Development Trust in the Energy Centre at Founders Heritage Park.

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A brutal slice of World War I has been painstakingly recreated at Founders Heritage Park.

As part of its annual Lest We Forget Anzac commemorations, Dramatix Theatre Development Trust has built a surprisingly realistic Western Front trench system in the park's Energy Centre building.

Complete with barbed wire, mud, periscopes and ladders, the set's construction includes 250 metres of hessian, 316 hand-filled sandbags, 80 big hay bales, 100 small hay bales, five apple bins of sawdust, three apple bins of clay and lots of corrugated iron.

In addition to the muddy passageways, it includes a first aid station, captain's room and bunkroom, along with a skull over the entrance bearing the message "Welcome to Hell."

Lest We Forget's director Tracey Ramsay said it depicts the kind of trenches in Belgium that New Zealanders fought in just before the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

The trench system was built by members of Dramatix over a week and is serving as both a film set and the scene of an interactive "experience" for visitors to this year's Lest We Forget commemorations this weekend and next Wednesday, Anzac Day.

The set, which features a rig of around 160 lights, was designed by Tracey, costume expert Greg Olsen and stage manager Nigel Gibbs.

Dramatix received $8000 from Nelson Pine Industries towards the production that includes two films and what is called The Theatre of War Trench Experience.

At night Dramatix is shooting a 20-minute film to be part of a school resource kit on WWI and a 30-minute film to screen at next year's Lest We Forget.

Shooting is expected to take three weeks and includes a cast of 27, a film crew of eight and backstage crew of eight.

Cast members Joseph Knowles, 17, Adam Lines, 19, and Toby Gwynne, 15, told The Leader that making the films had given them greater understanding of how tough the conditions were for soldiers in WWI.

Joseph said the helmets were heavier than he expected while Adam had been struck by how easy it was to get killed in the trenches.

However, Toby said it had also given him an idea of the camaraderie the soldiers would have shared.

"It really brings people together being in horrible places," he said.

This weekend members of the public will be able to be taken on tours of The Theatre of War Trench Experience. The set will be populated with actors playing soldiers who will answer people's questions in character. As people are led through they are likely to encounter explosions, simulated gas attacks and trench invasions, Tracey said.

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Lest We Forget will also feature displays and performances on air raids, the Resistance, life on the home front, wartime stories for children and the Holocaust.

  • Lest We Forget is open this Saturday and Sunday and next Wednesday, April 25, Anzac Day, at Founders from 10am to 4pm. Entry $2.

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