Women In Power – Nuffield Southampton – review

Bawdy fun as women turn the tables on men

Click here to see the review of Women In Power on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

(3 / 5)
Production shot from Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres. Photo: The Other Richard

Women In Power at the Nuffield Southampton Theatres’ city venue is a new version of AristophanesAssemblywomen. It sticks pretty closely to the original story in which women take over the government from the weak and incompetent men.

Aristotle was having a go at the male politicians rather than seriously suggesting that women could run things so, while they turn the tables on the men by, for example, making it law that the oldest and least attractive women have first choice of male lover, they also introduce pure communism with disastrous results.

What’s great about this production is that women are in power on stage and off and they’ve produced a very entertaining show that makes some good points about male and female behaviour. It’s written by seven prominent women- Wendy Cope, Jenny Eclair, Suhayla El-Bushra, Natalie Haynes, Shappi Korshandi, Jess Phillips MP & Brona C Titley. The dramaturg is Clare Slater and it has a cast of six women, directed by Blanche McIntyre.

In effect it’s a series of sketches, and perhaps because it’s the work of so many different hands, some work and some are stilted and clichéd but the ones that work are very funny. I should also say, in the tradition of Aristophanes, it’s also very rude, filthy even. I can’t remember ever seeing someone defecate on stage before and, while the scene goes on a bit too long, it’s cringingly convincing.

photo of Lisa Kerr in Women In Power at Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Lisa Kerr in Women In Power. Photo: The Other Richard

There is much fun made of men and their genitalia but also mockery of the women. In one hilarious scene the women vie for a young male’s attention by competing in droopiness and looseness, if you get my drift. In another, Lisa Kerr (whose all round performance skills are very impressive) plays a man who is following the law that he must give up all his possessions. He is persuaded to follow this to its logical conclusion by giving away his clothes, revealing a very funny nude body suit.

The songs which intersperse the production are excellent pastiches of well known musical songs and have uniformly witty lyrics. Whisper it, but they are written by a man Tim Sutton.

Despite the show’s unevenness, Women In Power is well worth seeing.

Women In Power is performing at the Nuffield Southampton until 29 September 2018, then at Oxford Playhouse from 3-6 October.

Here’s the YouTube review of Women In Power on the One Minute Theatre Reviews channel-

Flowers For Mrs Harris – Chichester – Review

A few blooms but no bouquet for a dull production

(3 / 5)

Click here to see the review of Flowers For Mrs Harris on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo of Clare Burt in Flower For Mrs Harris at Chichester
Clare Burt in Flower For Mrs Harris at Chichester. Photo: Johan Persson

Flowers for Mrs Harris, a musical based on a Paul Gallico story and directed by Daniel Evans, is set in East London just after the end of the second world war. In a world of rationing and drabness, Mrs Harris has a dream of owning a Christian Dior dress. She goes about achieving this, mainly by being nice to people and bringing out the niceness in them.

There are set backs along the way but they are easily resolved within minutes. I think this is the essence of why I didn’t enjoy this musical. There is no grit, no tension, no sense that this won’t have (spoiler alert!) a happy ending.

Flowers for Mrs Harris at Chichester. Photo: Johan Persson

Richard Taylor’s opera-style sung-through music is unmemorable.  To complete a dull presentation, the sets are grey. Even when we relocate to Paris for the second act, they offer hardly anything in the way of scenery or dynamic changes to delight the eye. Only the Dior dresses and of course flowers provide colour, which I guess is designer Lez Brotherston’s point but you have to wait quite a while for those.

And just because it’s a musical, don’t expect any dancing.

On the plus side, there are some good characters well acted by a strong cast that includes Claire Machin, Joanna Riding and Gary Wilmot and especially Clare Burt who is brilliant as the self effacing, resilient Mrs Harris.

I admit I did feel like a miserable git when I saw people around me crying at the end.

Flowers For Mrs Harris can be seen at Chichester Festival Theatre until 29 September 2018

Here’s the One Minute Theatre Reviews video on YouTube-

The Goon Show – Tour – review

The Goons- Still crazy after all these years

Click here to watch the YouTube review of The Goon Show tour

(3 / 5)
Production shot of Julian Howard McDowell, Colin Elmer and Clive Greenwood in the theatre tour of The Goon Show
Julian Howard McDowell, Colin Elmer and Clive Greenwood in the touring production of The Goon Show

The Goon Shows are classic radio comedy. Many of us have caught up with them through the eternal repeats on Radio Four Extra. Part of the appeal is the imagination that radio encourages you to exercise. That makes it quite a challenge to present three of Spike Milligan’s Goon Show scripts as stage shows.

Apollo Theatre Company get round that by making it seem like we’re the audience for a recording of the show. That way we can continue to imagine the explosions, falls from great heights and other crazy happenings.

The team of Julian Howard McDowell, Colin Elmer and Clive Greenwood make a good stab at imitating Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. They are well supported by Tom Capper and musicians Rachel Davies and Anthony Coote.

Nostalgia and laugh-out-loud comedy as Goons go on stage

What was brought home to me was just how well these shows were written. Yes, some topical references are sixty years out of date but Spike Milligan’s surreal humour seems as fresh as anything written today. I laughed a lot, even at the tongue-in-cheek corny jokes.

And there was the undeniable warmth of nostalgia for those long departed comic geniuses and their familiar characters like Bluebottle and Eccles.

If the production is short of anything, it’s the sense of anarchy and spontaneity that Sellers and Milligan brought to the original recordings. You know, the corpsing and improvisation (whether genuine or not). To be fair, I did see this production at its first performance at Salisbury Playhouse and I’m sure that missing element will come as the cast relax into both the show and each other’s company.

If you want an evening of nostalgia and laugh-out-loud comedy, I recommend you see The Goon Show at one of its many stops around the UK.

The Goon Show is at Salisbury Playhouse until 8 September and is touring to Churchill Theatre Bromley, Yvonne Arnaud Guildford, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham, New Alexandra Birmingham, Brewhouse Theatre Taunton, Trinity Theatre Tunbridge Wells, Theatre Royal Winchester, Richmond Theatre, Lighthuse Poole, Blakehay Weston-Super-Mare, Octagon Theatre Yeovil, Princess Theatre Torquay, Haymarket Theatre Basingstoke, Theatre Royal Brighton, Key Theatre Peterborough, The Capital Horsham, Lichfield Garrick Theatre, Leatherhead Theatre, Norwich Playhouse, Theatre Royal Bury-St-Edmunds, Waterside Theatre Aylesbury, Grand Opera House York, South Hill Park Bracknell, Mercury Theatre Colchester, Theatre Royal Windsor, Theatr Clwyd Mold and Leicester Square Theatre London (11 November). For links to box offices, go apollotheatrecompany.com

 

Watch the YouTube review of The Goon Show below

Copenhagen – Chichester Festival Theatre

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn at the Minerva is rich in possibilities

(5 / 5)

Click here for the YouTube review of Copenhagen in Chichester on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production shot from michael Frayn's Copenhagen at Chichester Festival Theatre showing Paul Jesson, Patricia Hodge and Charles Edwards
Paul Jesson, Patricia Hodge and Charles Edwards in Copenhagen by Michael Frayn at Minerva Theatre. Photo: Conrad Blakemore

So what is Copenhagen about? Ostensibly it’s about what happened at a mysterious meeting that took place in the Danish capital during World War Two between two of the great quantum theorists- Heisenberg, he of the Uncertainty Principle, and Bohr, who united the two main theories of quantum mechanics. Yes, but what’s it really about?

On the face of it, the play is about three dead people, ghosts if you like- Heisenberg, Bohr and Bohr’s wife- trying to work out between them what happened back in 1942. They keep going over the same ground with different results, and reveal all sorts of interesting things along the way. Appropriately to a play involving Quantum Theory, there are possibilities, probabilities and, above all, uncertainty. In fact the fluid time and colliding dialogue of Michael Frayn‘s play and Michael Blakemore’s bare production which makes the characters seem like protons in the nucleu of an atom give us insights into Quantum Theory.

So here are my thoughts on the possibilities, probabilities and uncertainty of what I saw.

Looking at it one way, the play is about history and science and how the two interlink. Quantum Theory led to nuclear fission which led to the atomic bomb- and a race between Germany and the Allies to create it.

Looking at it another way, it’s about the moral dilemma felt by a theoretical scientist wanting to help win a war but working on a weapon of mass destruction to achieve that victory. Did the meeting affect the outcome of the war?

Then again, the play is about how time and memory work: what happened is always gone and replaced by an unreliable memory influenced by subsequent events. And the impossibility of seeing yourself and your life objectively because you are the centre of your universe.

 

 

Production shot from Copenhagen at CFT
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn at CFT’s Minerva Theatre. Photo: Conrad Blakemore

 

You could say the play is about how people and relationships affect history and science. How jealousy, rivalry, fear, ambition and personal tragedy play their part. Charles Edwards as Heisenberg gives us a moving account of a life under the Nazis. Patricia Hodge and Paul Jesson are his equal in acting power.

You might come out thinking mainly about how impressive it is that an intelligent well written drama can put across all the above.

To go back to quantum theory, Copenhagen could be about how the act of observation changes what’s being observed. My experience might have been different on a different night but when I observed it, I thought Copenhagen at the Minerva Theatre deserved five stars.

Copenhagen is at the Minerva Theatre until 22 September 2018

This is my review of Copenhagen on YouTube

SS Mendi: Dancing The Death Drill – Isango Ensemble – Nuffield Southampton Theatres

Isango Ensemble’s SS Mendi is Powerful Theatre

(4 / 5)

Watch the YouTube review on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo of Isango Ensemble in SS Mendi Dancing The Death Drill at Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Isango Ensemble in SS Mendi Dancing The Death Drill at Nuffield Southampton Theatres

As shocking fact is laid upon shocking fact, it becomes hard to judge SS Mendi- Dancing The Drill Of Death as a piece of theatre, such is one’s outrage at how the British behaved towards black people from the Empire a hundred years ago. But Isango Ensemble have created a powerful musical to tell the human story behind the appalling facts .

Directed by Mark Darnford-May, SS Mendi is about the last voyage of a ship that transported black South African men to support British troops against the German army.

They see themselves as warriors going to fight but actually they will be digging trenches because one of the many appalling things we hear is that the black man is not allowed to raise his hand against the white man- even the German enemy.

The ship is sunk in an accident off the English coast and over 600 dead black South Africans become, as far as Britain is concerned, a footnote to the history of world war one. Until now.

The brilliant Isango Ensemble from South Africa bring to life what is actually an uplifting tale of the life of the people sailing to their doom. It’s a great piece of storytelling that could only happen in theatre.

This is physical theatre at its best, relying entirely on the performers. It’s a mixed gender company but it’s all about the acting so women take on male roles. On a bare stage with minimal props, they talk, sing, mime, play music. They tell individual stories with humour and compassion; they celebrate the men’s pride and humanity; they move fluidly together to provide a physical metaphor for their community as well as for the sea and the ultimate tragedy.

There were moments when some of the co-ordinated movement could have been tighter and some of the voices stronger but I don’t want to quibble in such an excellent production.

Production photo of Isango Ensemble in SS Mendi Dancing The Death Drill
Isango Ensemble in SS Mendi Dancing The Death Drill at Nuffield Theatre Southampton

The terrible patronising racism is there almost from the start when, as the men are recruited, they are given British names to replace their real names. Although the colonial white racism is appalling, SS Mendi does make clear that, there was class and racism among all of humanity as well as a specific British white racism a hundred years ago. The white officer in charge himself faces class prejudice. The black South Africans are prejudiced against each other’s tribes and some initially won’t have anything to do with mixed race person they call a ‘half breed’. So it is more nuanced than a simple attack on British racism.

Despite the horrors, there was humour. I liked the interspersing of traditional British songs into the South African music which was terrific by the way- at times joyous, at others haunting.

Not all the attempts at humour work. Just prior to the sinking, a performer comes on stage with a fog machine. It’s one thing to want us to stand back and understand this is a story being told but that intervention did strike a false note.

I would have liked the play to have been a little longer so that more time could have been spent looking at the lives of these individuals chosen to represent the 600 dead, to give us more chance to connect which would have made the tragic outcome even more poignant.

But it’s a story worth telling and Isango Ensemble use the full power of theatre to tell it. I congratulate Nuffield Theatres Southampton on them to Britain to mount this important production.

SS Mendi: Dancing The Death Drill is performing at NST City until 14 July

Watch the youTube review of  SS Mendi: Dancing The Death Drill on the channel One Minute Theatre Reviews-

Miss Littlewood – RSC Stratford – review

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Miss Littlewood does her proud

(4 / 5)

Click here to watch Miss Littlewood reviewed on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Clare Burt in RSC's Miss Littlewood, Photo by Topher McGrillis
Clare Burt in RSC’s Miss Littlewood, Photo by Topher McGrillis

On the face of it Miss Littlewood at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon is a celebration of the theatrical revolutionary Joan Littlewood. Actually Sam Kenyon‘s marvellous musical is a celebration of theatre, or at least of the kind of theatre that she pioneered with shows like Oh What A Lovely War and which is now long established.

Miss Littlewood imagines Joan putting on a production of her own life story. In her now well established theatre workshop style, there is no set, only a few props and an open stage.  The storytelling is episodic. There’s a narrator in the form of Joan. It’s always clear this a play, being directed- by Joan. The actors take on many parts in a very egalitarian way.

In a touch which I’m sure Joan would have loved and which is still a little revolutionary, the casting in Erica Whyman‘s production is colour blind and gender blind. So while the story is set in a past age dominated by white men, the cast reflect today’s society: which means women play some of the male parts and black people play what were historically white people.

I suspect some won’t like it but it works, because good stage actors seize your imagination and take you beyond the literal facts of appearance, as happened in Joan’s productions.

There are some vivid characters, although we don’t get to know many of them in depth. Even Miss Littlewood herself remains enigmatic, although the narrator Joan played by the splendid Clare Burt displays charm, humour, emotion and ruthlessness (she changes the person playing herself six times).

Central to her story is the grand love affair between herself and Gerry Raffles, the man who made a lot happen on the practical level. Unfortunately there seemed little spark between them, charming as Solomon Israel’s Gerry is.

Sophia Nomvete and company in Miss Littlewood at Swan Theatre. Photo by Topher McGrillis
Sophia Nomvete and company in Miss Littlewood at Swan Theatre. Photo by Topher McGrillis

It’s not a full stage musical in that there is very little dancing and the musical numbers advance the plot with witty lyrics rather than moving melodies. However there is one showstopper magnificently led by Sophia Nomvete.

If you love theatre, by which I mean the whole art of theatre, you really must see Miss Littlewood.

Miss Littlewood is at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 4 August 2018. To book, click here.

Here’s Miss Littlewood reviewed on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

The Country Wife at Chichester Festival Theatre

Was it a mistake to modernise The Country Wife?

(3 / 5)

Click here to go to see The Country Wife reviewed at One Minute Theatre Reviews on YouTube 

Lex Shrapnel and other members of the cast in The Country Wife at Chichester Festival theatre. Photo- Manuel Harlan
Lex Shrapnel and other members of the cast in The Country Wife at Chichester Festival theatre. Photo- Manuel Harlan

Some of London’s high class women want sex but not with their unattractive, sometimes abusive husbands. A young man wants sex without commitment so targets married women. How to get the two together while keeping up the image of respectability? The answer: He pretends to be impotent.

The shock caused by the open and judgement-free discussion of sex, particularly by women, when it was first performed, is different to the shock The Country Wife causes today.

The play was first performed in 1675 but many of its elements could form the plot of a play for today, which may be why director Jonathan Munby has shifted the action to modern London.

However I can’t help feeling it would have been better to leave it in the context of its own time because the problem with updating the setting to modern London is not that people’s behaviour has changed- it’s that attitudes have changed. Men patronizing or abusing women doesn’t sit well today as a subject for a jolly romp.

Setting it in the time of the #metoo movement means it’s inevitable that we will question the sexist, controlling, even abusive, men more than we would if it was simply of its time. A production set in the modern day could still be funny but it would need to be darker than this in order to give us some acknowledgement that we are looking at these people through 21st century eyes. Instead, the production remains in Carry On mode, except for a hint that commitment-free sex may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Also, the plot struggles to work in a mode setting. Today’s well off women, if they want to cuckold their husbands, are usually independent enough financially and in lifestyle to be able to do it. Men or women who want sex without commitment only have to visit Ashley Madison or swipe on Tinder.

Susannah Fielding in The Country Wife at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo- Manuel Harlan
Susannah Fielding in The Country Wife. Photo- Manuel Harlan

A lot of the verbal humour hasn’t aged well either but the cast throw themselves into it, especially Scott Karim as Sparkish, a would-be one-of-the-lads who thinks he’s much wittier than he is, and Susannah Fielding, hilarious as the naïve wife of the title. All the cast are excellent but Lex Shrapnel in the central role of Horner and John Hodgkinson as the vicious but foolish cuckold Pinchwife deserve a special mention. The laughter quota is helped by a lot of French farce style going in and out of doors.

Although I’m dubious about modernising the setting, I did like Soutra Gilmour’s black-and-white set and costumes- the kind of exaggerated outfits that you wouldn’t normally see outside of a fashion designer’s catwalk contrast cleverly with the naive country woman’s colourful everyday clothes.

It’s worth saying that, lthough The Country Wife seems like a celebration of sexual liberation, two of the characters, Alithea played by a pitch perfect Jo Herbert and Harcourt played by a very amusing Ashley Zhangazha, are driven by romantic love, suggesting that Wycherley didn’t think all men and women were thinking only of sex.

It was an enjoyable enough evening but I can’t see this production lingering in my memory.

The Country Wife ends its run at the Chichester Festival Theatre on 7 July 2018

Watch the YouTube review of The Country Wife at Chichester below

The Chalk Garden with Penelope Keith – Chichester

The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold at Chichester Festival Theatre directed by Alan Strachan with Penelope Keith

(3 / 5)

Watch the review of The Chalk Garden on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Penelope Keith in The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre
Penelope Keith in The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

1956, the year Enid Bagnold’s The Chalk Garden was first performed in Britain, was also the year in which Look Back In Anger exploded upon the British stage and made all those upper middle class drawing room comedies like The Chalk Garden with their standard formats and neat conclusions seem irredeemably old fashioned. On the strength of this Chichester Festival Theatre production, you can understand why.

Which is unfair on The Chalk Garden because it’s an intelligent mysterious drama about mothers and daughters, old age, death and the human need for love. There’s also much consideration of old age and death which should put it right on the wavelength of Chichester’s baby boomer audience.

There was no pace to the production which wasn’t helped by Simon Higlett‘s enormous, naturalistic set. It was impressive but the actors spent a considerable time getting from a to b. I did go early on in the run and it may be that once the actors bed down into their parts, the pace will improve.

There’s a lot of witty dialogue cloaking the deep sadness of some intriguing characters’ but on this occasion, for the first half at least, all I heard of this witty dialogue was blah blah blah.

The epigrams scattered throughout which should rival Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward just didn’t flow with the conversation and ended up sounding far too pleased with themselves. I suspect Bagnold aspired to be like Wilde and Coward but lacked their ability to incorporate bon mots into dramatic dialogue.

Photo of cast of The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre
The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

We’re presented with an unhappy mistress of the house Mrs St Maugham, played by Penelope Keith, who is directed or rather misdirected by a fearsome unseen dying butler (for which read ‘old testament god’?). She can’t control her granddaughter nor can she make anything grow in her garden. Dame Penelope captures the Lady Bracknell-like imperious entitlement wonderfully but much less so the emptiness at her heart. Emma Curtis plays her troubled granddaughter with energy.

Then there’s her mysterious new companion Miss Madrigal, whose contained passion was beautifully conveyed by Amanda Root, understands both the granddaughter and the garden but is hiding something devastating from her past.

After a somewhat monotonous first half, the second half with its revelations and resolutions was much more involving. Even so, there is far more to be got out of this play and its characters than Alan Strachan’s production managed.

The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre ends its run on 16 June 2018

Here’s the review on the youTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Southampton Theatre City

Imaginative take on a 20th century classic

(3 / 5)

Click here to see my review of A Streetcar Named Desire on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Kelly Gough in A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Theatre Southampton
Kelly Gough in A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Theatre Southampton. Photo: The Other Richard

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century. Chelsea Walker’s production at Nuffield Theatre’s City venue does it justice in many respects.

The cast convey the unspoken as well as spoken relationships very well. Kelly Gough gives a visceral performance as the central character Blanche Dubois who comes to stay with her physically abused sister Stella and macho brother-in-law Stanley, and whose superior behaviour and secret past create a charged atmosphere destined to explode. She’s hyperactive, nervous, fragile. You feel at any moment she could break into a thousand pieces, like the various objects during the production which do just that. A watermelon being one example.

Chelsea Walker has added many more visual metaphors, including some nicely done dance sequences, to underline what’s happening in the characters’ heads. One metaphor at the end by which the set becomes symbolic of Blanche’s state of mind and her separation from the other characters works really well.

There is a realistic lovemaking scene in which Stanley pleasures Stella. This has the effect of heightening the strong sexual atmosphere, as well as showing explicitly what the text only suggests, that one reason why she stays with this bully is that he satisfies her physically.

Chelsea Walker’s production sizzles with ideas

The production sizzles with ideas but there were times when I felt this talented director was trying too hard. For example, she’s given the play a contemporary setting.  It’s true that the themes of being an outsider, domestic violence, masculinity and power, and more remain relevant to our times but by moving it to our times, many anachronisms are created.

For example, talk of sending a wire when one would send a text or of workclothes when a character is wearing a leisure outfit. This wouldn’t matter if the modern setting provided new insights but I’m not convinced it did.

Cast of A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Southampton Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Southampton Theatre. Photo: The Other Richard

Patrick Knowles resisted the temptation to overplay Stanley, allowing Blanche’s character to dominate the play, as she should. He managed to convey the arrogance and insecurity of a macho  man who imagines himself a ‘king’. He could perhaps have displayed more sexual swagger for a man who defines himself by his masculinity.

One thing missing was the oppressive atmosphere we expect in A Streetcar Named Desire. Georgina Lowe’s clever set, although appropriately restricted in its dimensions, has an open frame-like structure made more open by all the space of the Nuffield’s new auditorium around it. (I suspect it will work better in more intimate venues.)

The actors rarely behaved like they were weighed down by the heat and humidity of a New Orleans summer.

These caveats aside, I thoroughly recommend A Streetcar Named Desire either at the Nuffield or during its tour.

A Streetcar Named Desire performs at the Nuffield Theatres Southampton City until 31 March 2018 then tours  to Keswick (3 – 7 Apr), Malvern (10 – 14 Apr), Bristol (17  – 21), Ipswich (24 – 28 Apr), Cambridge (1 – 5 May), Oxford (8 – 12 May) and Mold (15 May – 2 June), returning to the Nuffield 5 – 16 June.

Here’s my YouTube review

The Shadow Factory – Nuffield Theatre

Howard Brenton’s play is an inspired choice to launch the new Nuffield

(4 / 5)

Click here to see the review of The Shadow Factory on YouTube

Production shot from The Shadow Factory y Howard Brenton at Nuffield Theatre
The Shadow Factory by Howard Brenton at Nuffield Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Howard Brenton is an inspired choice to launch the Nuffield Southampton’s new theatre. His latest play The Shadow Factory is not only about the city in the second world war, it fills the large space.

The imaginative set has been created by the group of artists called 59 Productions whose impressive pedigree includes video work on War Horse and An American In Paris. Virtually the only elements of the set are tubular lights above that bend and move to recreate brilliantly the sense of planes overhead and maps projected on the floor of the thrust stage to show not only scene locations but the targets of German bombs. Combined with amazing surround sound, the feeling of being under air attack made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

One of Luftwaffe’s targets is Woolston, Southampton, home of the main factory producing Spitfires. After this is blown up, production switches to multiple locations around the area- the shadow factory of the title.

And this is where it gets interesting. The British government, once at war, committed itself to full-on war without mercy or conscience.  In The Shadow Factory, we see them requisitioning property, specifically a local laundry business and a country house, with no care for the owners.

Anita Dobson & David Birrell lead an excellent cast

The central characters are there to give a human face to the story but, I suspect, not meant to distract us from it by tugging at the heartstrings.  Even so, the excellent cast do bring them to life. Special mention here for Anita Dobson and David Birrell playing two vivid characters each.

Dobson is both the laid back, generous aristocratic American Lady Cooper and the indefatigable, humorous grandmother Ma. Both of Birrell’s characters oppose the government in their different ways: Fred Dimmock, the rebellious laundry owner, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding who is too gentlemanly for modern warfare.

The cast are uniformly good. Catherine Cusack also doubles up: Lil Dimmock is on the edge of a breakdown and Sylvia Meinster whose propriety isn’t enough to overcome a foreign name. Lorna Fitzgerald (Jackie) and Shala Nyx (Polly) played two of the numerous strong women in this play who face up to the horrors of war and make their mark. It was a pleasure to see Hilton McCrae take the part of the ruthless charmer Beaverbrook. Daniel York is splendid as the conflicted Len Gooch, likeable local factory manager and reluctant tool of the government.

A chorus of local people appear regularly and, by the device of singing together, create a strong sense of community in the face of German bombardment and government dictatorship.

Sam Hodges’ production of The Shadow Factory hits the target.

The Shadow Factory can be seen at Nuffield Theatre Southampton until 3 March.

Here’s my review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews-

A version of this review has appeared on the Southern Daily Echo website