Howard Brenton’s play is an inspired choice to launch the new Nuffield(4 / 5)
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