• Sarah

Review of the World Premier of 'Into Battle' at Greenwich Theatre


We've really been enjoying seeing some 'off West End' shows lately. Smaller venues and budgets mean that more thought and effort is put into staging something with imagination and skill rather than relying on complicated sets, special effects and big casts.


From the moment we sat down and saw the set we knew that there was going to be more than one battle happening. A book strewn room with upended furniture in a shell-hit building. The battles were to be amongst academics and also between countries.


The play is a true story based on extensive research by its author Hugh Salmon. He started by trying to research his grandfather's rugby career with the Harlequins and in so doing uncovered the story of Ronnie Poulton who went onto to be England's Captain in 1914. His research further led to discovering a bitter feud between a group of Old Etonians and the 'plebs' at Balliol.

Member of the Baliol Club the 'Anna' drunk and smashing crockery to the disgust of other students who are trying to do good in the community.   They are horrified
Member of the 'Anna' meeting the Oxford Boys Club supporters. Photo credit Mark Douet.

In essence it was a war of haves and have nots. Other students were conscious of the poor of Oxford living side by side with these privileged and entitled young men. One such man was Keith Rae, an outsider who had not even been to public school. Together with Ronnie Poulton and Neville Talbot the Chaplain of Balliol they developed the Oxford Boys Club as a way of lifting the circumstances of the poorer boys of Oxford.

Billy and Keith go head to head - this photo says everything about the conflict.  Photo credit Mark Douet
Billy and Keith go head to head - this photo says everything about the conflict. Photo credit Mark Douet

This made Keith Rae a target for the bullying Billy Grenfell and his cronies. Son of Lord Desborough, a clever young man and a gifted boxer, his misadventures in the Annandale Society known as the Anna (an exclusive dining club) and bullying of Keith led to him being 'sent down' after an assault.


That might have been the end of the feud as Keith took up a post at Marlborough and Billy commenced reading for the Bar. But the outbreak of WW1 sees them both commissioned to the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.

Julian Grenfell in officers uniform drinking champagne reflecting on his poetry and what is to happen to them.   Photo credit Mark Douet
Julian Grenfell reflecting on his poetry and what is to happen to them. Photo credit Mark Douet

As the story unfolds in the second half of the play, they and their friends manage to put the past behind them, knowing that they and their men are likely to die. They reflect on the intensity of their emotions and the poetry that flows from them as a result. The play is named after a poem by Julian Grenfell, elder brother to Billy with an especially poignant verse:

The blackbird sings to him: "Brother, brother,

If this be the last song you shall sing,

Sing well, for you may not sing another;

Brother, sing"


It is of course, ultimately a very sad story. The waste of life, talent, and denied futures makes for a thoughtful end to their story.


Do pop along to Greenwich to catch this whilst you can. It's on until 31st October 2021.


Disclaimer: We were guests of Greenwich Theatre. All views and content are our own.


Into Battle


Written by Hugh Salmon

Directed by Ellie Jones


Crooms Hill, London, SE10 8ES

020 8858 7755

info@greenwichtheatre.org.uk