HANGING rats, propaganda posters and old newspaper articles make up a First World War exhibition at the Wyvern Theatre this week to commemorate the First World War centenary.

The trench display created by organisation Wiltshire Soldiers, which has a database of 12,000 soldiers from the conflict, was put in place to mark the production of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong at the theatre.

It began on Tuesday and finishes tomorrow, with the free exhibition open to ticketholders and non-ticketholders to walk through. The eerie trench depicts the German invasion of Belgium on August 4, 1914 with the low wire roof and minimal lights making for a claustrophobic, grim atmosphere.

Richard Loftus, the theatre’s marketing manager, said: “We are happy to welcome as many people as possible as this is a great opportunity to learn more about our history and that of other countries who were affected by the First World War.

“I think one of the interesting things about this display is that there is a lack of happiness, which might feel like an obvious thing to say, but if you think about most war displays you see there’s often a euphoria showing it being over – there’s none of that here.”

Wiltshire Soldiers is a website that allows users to research the region’s First World War servicemen. It is run by historian and author Richard Broadhead, who will be at the theatre tomorrow to talk to visitors.

Mr Loftus sees Mr Broadhead’s appearance as a fitting way to end Swindon’s run of the play, which shows serviceman Stephen Wraysford’s experiences during the four-year conflict.

The theatre heralded the start of the production’s run with a performance by the Military Wives, who gave a free concert in the bandstand opposite the venue on Tuesday evening.

Mr Loftus said: “That was a great coup for us and I’m really eager to add more to our theatre productions than just the show. We were really delighted to welcome the Military Wives and are delighted they, as has Wiltshire Soldiers, provided their services for free as it means more people can enjoy the experiences.”

This week is just the first opportunity audiences have to experience theatrical First World War commemorations with productions of Horrible Histories, Oh! What a Lovely War and Twelve Ten Fifteen coming to the Wyvern Theatre and the Arts Centre in September. Private Peaceful and Journey’s End are performed in November.