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Peter Terry unpacks the resilience of the human spirit in ‘At All Costs’

Peter Terry. Picture: Supplied

Peter Terry. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 6, 2022

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In his new play “At All Costs”, legendary television and stage actor Peter Terry pays homage to South African men who sacrificed their lives at Battle of Delville Wood in July 1916.

Directed by internationally-acclaimed theatre practitioner, Janice Honeyman, “At All Costs” is written by Terry, who also stars as David Wells.

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Wells, a retired mechanical engineer, who fought at the Battle of Delville Wood as a youngster in 1916, relives his past in this compelling piece of solo theatre.

Elaborating on the inspiration behind the show, Terry says: “I’ve always been fascinated by the Great War, as it was known, the conflict of 1914 to 1918 that changed the world and warfare forever.

“I suppose my interest in the First World War first emerged when I had myself been a young teenage conscript, and I read the deeply moving poetry of the famous poet Wilfred Owen.

“That was my introduction to a subject that has fascinated me to the point of obsession for over 50 years.“

Terry plays an elderly man who revisits Delville Wood in 1970 to try to face the nightmares that have haunted him for 54 years.

“As he enters the Wood he starts to relive the battle in detail. It’s this reawakening of the terror that gives the play its meat, and I hope it moves the audience as they witness the dreadful carnage of the Battle of Delville Wood.

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Peter Terry. Picture: Philip Kuhn

The play is about courage, sacrifice, survival, trauma and the resilience of the human spirit.

“My character’s recollection of the events is both similar to and very different from the version in the history books because his own experience of the battle was limited to a tiny portion of the forest that he saw being turned into a wasteland littered with piles of dead bodies, right in front of his eyes.

The former “Generations” star says the Battle of Delville Wood is legendary in South African history and it is relevant now as it was over five decades ago.

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He adds that the story will resonate with many people, possibly the older generations.

“I have discovered that so many people I know had a grandfather or a great uncle who was there (during the war). Both Janice’s grandfathers were there.

“I have done several performances at various venues around Gauteng and Mpumalanga, and North West and everybody in the audience has known and understood the importance of the Battle. It is part of South Africa’s most precious mythology.

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“And we all need to keep alive the memories of the men who died. I have dedicated this play, this production, and my performance, however humbly, to the memory of the men who fought there.”

Terry credits long-time friend Janice Honeyman for encouraging him to write this play.

Peter Terry. Picture: Philip Kuhn

“It all started with a phone call from Janice Honeyman. She’d seen me moaning on Facebook about being out of work. So she challenged me, saying that if I wrote a play for myself, she’d direct it, and we could do a performance in her garden.

“Well, that was too good an opportunity to miss. I spent some time wondering what I could write about, and it was almost inevitable that I’d start thinking about the Great War as a source for a drama that I would want to write.

“And I started imagining what it might be like for a veteran to return to the battlefields where he’d fought.

“It was then that I recalled a tour I went on in 1970, organised by the MOTHs, the famous veterans’ association to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It went up through Italy, with stop-offs at various battlefields and cemeteries, including Delville Wood in France.

“When I was on that tour, there were still plenty of old fellows in our tour group who fought at Delville Wood.”

Terry says decades later, he couldn’t stop wondering what thoughts, emotions, and terrors that visit might have reawakened in those soldiers.

“I wanted to pay tribute to the extraordinary courage of the South African men whose courage and sacrifice stand tall in the annals of international military history.”

“At All Costs” will be staged for a limited season, from July 12 until 23 at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square. Tickets to the show are available at Computicket for R180.

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