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Conscientious objectors' tales told in Town Hall drama

The stories of those who refused to fight in World War l are brought to life in a powerful drama at Middlesbrough Town Hall.

The play Devils on Horseback – at Middlesbrough Town Hall on Friday, July 27 and Saturday, July 28 - tells the story of men forced to stand trial for their religion, politics, and human conscience.

Written by journalist, author and academic Professor Tim Crook, the play is inspired by colourful true stories from London’s archives – many of which went unheard at the time as local press found themselves banned from proceedings.   

Devils on Horseback is produced by North East theatre-maker Tom Powell and performed in the Town Hall’s imposing courtroom by an international cast of young actors from new company Creative Vortex Productions.

Set in 1917, Devils on Horseback recreates – with a little artistic licence - the secret hearings of men who were hauled in front of a tribunal for refusing to enter the armed forces in the midst of a conflict that would shape the world.

Around 16,000 conscientious objectors refused to fight during WWI as conscription laws enlisted 2.5 million extra British troops after 1916. Some were locked up, others entered civilian service or were forced into serving.

Writer Tim Crook brings to life a postman who said no, a priest who won a Victoria Cross saving lives in No Man’s Land, the Labour activist and suffragist who later became Deptford's first woman Mayor, and the militarist conservative William Wayland who raised one of the highest numbers of recruits of any urban borough in the Great War.

Early scenes from Devils on Horseback made their debut in 2016 in Deptford Town Hall (part of Goldsmiths, University of London).

The play was originally performed in the same council chamber that the district’s young men had faced a jury in a century earlier.

A portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Wayland still hangs in the room. Reflecting the fact that these scenes played out in town halls across the country 100 years ago, each production of Devils on Horseback is adapted to its venue and city.

In 2017 a radio play was recorded and a full-length stage version ran four times in Deptford, later appearing at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London’s West End.

It is currently on tour, most recently at Dover’s Fort Burgoyne and the Zion Baptist Church, Cambridge, to mark International Conscientious Objectors Day 2018.  

A film adaptation of Devils on Horseback is currently in post-production.  

  • Devils on Horseback takes place at Middlesbrough Town Hall on Friday, July 27 at 7.30pm and Saturday, July 28 at 7pm.

Tickets, priced £12 and £7 (concessions) are available from or from the Box Office on
01642 729 729.