Brighton Fringe 2009
Littlest Pirate Productions
Venue: The Hive
The spirit of ‘Ealing Comedy’ claims the advertising for this delightful comedy, playing at The Hive, an intimate Marquee theatre in the car park of the Brunswick off Hove seafront. This gem of a play is the work of ‘Hive’ promoter Dermot Kearney and actors Emma Kilby and Neil Salvage and tells the story of a retired colonels attempt to galvanise pensioners into direct action.
The purpose of this direct action, what the protagonist hopes to achieve other than anarchy and visibility for pensioners, remain slightly obscure to me, but the journey the audience are taken on is so funny, inventive and captivating that any flaws and inconsistencies in the script cease to matter. The plot moves between a wartime Resistance episode and a contemporary incident and features the characters from the 40’s in modern Britain. Queenie, a former wartime spy, accidentally or maybe purposely, shop lifts a number of items totaling £10.45. Because this is over £10 the shop are forced to prosecute and Queenie is taken to court. The TV and radio news get hold of this and exploit the age and vulnerability of the surprising criminal. Queenie defends her action with a stirring outburst which is witnessed by her former commander, who see’s in Queenie an opportunity rebuild the force he over saw during the war.
It is around this fact that the play cleverly structures itself. At the start, as the familiar strains of popular forties dances tunes echo through the radio, we see a defeated old man, sitting in an armchair, in his underwear. As the story gathers pace and this old man rebuilds his life, we witness him getting dressed scene by scene until at the end he is fully clothed and a dynamic force to be reckoned with.
The production employs plenty of multimedia tricks to drive the story along; a screen showing images that capture the war and contemporary Britain as well as illustrating events throughout the story, newspapers with phony headlines, the radio, mimed and sung songs, eccentric lighting effects even a handing round to the audience a plate of custard creams (sadly they never came my way).These elements collect to create a really vibrant and entertaining show.
For me, if there is an issue with this piece, it is its production values. Of course, this is cash strapped, bargain basement theatre, and by necessity is performed on a small, narrow and unfriendly, for the actors, stage. This means that the screen is often blocked by the actors, who have to shuffle around each other and some awkwardly assembled props as they recreate a multitude of characters between them. But what I found really wonderful about this show is that despite the cramped stage, the sometimes clumsy production values and the occasionally confusing script, I was genuinely moved by the end of the play and completely won over by the strength and charm of its story. And this is due, not least, to the warmth, energy and comic talent of the two wonderful performers.
There is a lot to admire about this production: a cracking script, actors with the ability to bring a variety of characters to life and some great comic moments ‘Old people are dying! Of course they are! They are old!