What the play's about: video and synopsis

The Christmas Truce tells the story of a group of young Warwickshire men 100 years ago.

Warwickshire, August 1914
A glorious summer is interrupted by the outbreak of war and the British Empire's bureaucratic machine swings into action.

Reserve soldiers and nurses are called up and readied for action while others with military experience are encouraged to re-join.

Among the returning soldiers is Second Lieutenant Bruce Bairnsfather, a charismatic young man from a military family, with a flair for drawing and painting.

Three months later...
After considerable casualties at the First Battle of Ypres, the Reserves are called upon to provide reinforcement. Bruce travels to Belgium with a group of such soldiers, joined also by Bill and Bert, a couple of old sweats.

Arriving to pelting rain and a heavy bombardment, they are taken straight to the Front Line where they learn to adapt to the terrible conditions of the trenches. Meanwhile, at a Clearing Hospital a few miles away, reserve nurse Phoebe Bishop arrives for work and immediately finds herself on the wrong side of Matron.

Bonded by shared experience, the soldiers become close friends, but their morale is damaged when they lose their first man to a sniper. Bruce organises a concert party, repairing their spirits, but their happiness is short-lived as they receive orders to attack. The attack is unsuccessful, though they are saved from total obliteration by a seemingly miraculous stroke of luck. Devastated by the loss of several comrades the surviving men bed in for Christmas.

INTERVAL

Christmas Eve
The Section are disappointed to be in the trenches for Christmas. But the evening takes a magical turn when they see a line of Christmas trees along the German Front Line. The German soldiers sing carols across No Mans Land and the Tommies sing back.

A growing atmosphere of festivity leads to an offer from the German side of a meeting in No Mans Land. Old Bill meets the enemy face-to-face and they exchange gifts. Meanwhile, in the Clearing Hospital, the injured soldiers are woken by the nurses putting up decorations. Matron demands that the decorations are taken down.

Christmas Day
Bruce and his friend Captain Riley meet a German officer and arrange a truce, though Bairnsfather will not shake the German officer's hand. Soldiers from both sides step out from the trenches and meet. They bury and pay tribute to their lost friends, and then a game of football begins.

The spirit of the truce reaches the hospital too, as Phoebe and Matron, inspired by the news from the Front Line, agree to put aside their differences for the common good. And later, in No Mans Land, the German officer convinces Bruce that their similarities outweigh their differences. Their own personal truce is sealed with a handshake.

For a fleeting moment all is peace and goodwill, until the British High Command, fearing mutiny, demand an immediate end to the truce. The war resumes, but they will remember this very special Christmas forever.

Photo: German troops holding first-line trench on the River Aisne. Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War.

Contact us & FAQs

Ticket Hotline

0844 800 1110
Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm

Email newsletter

Sign up to email updates for the latest RSC news:

RSC Members

Already an RSC Member or Supporter? Sign in here.