Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Britain in the Blitz can’t have been much fun but there was a sense of camaraderie that has perhaps been lost over the succeeding years. Experience the lives of women in war-torn Britain as Blackout re-creates life in bomb-alley.
A frightfully nice ‘gal’ offers me a piece of cake as we await the start of our entertainment. But this being wartime Britain, it’s small and a bit stale. And anyway, before I can eat it, the wail of the air-raid siren forces us to take refuge in a space not much bigger than the average Anderson shelter. With only the glow from paraffin lamps, it’s difficult to make out much in the gloom as the thud of the anti-aircraft guns and the whistle and cacophony created by falling bombs re-creates the look, sound and feel of an air-raid. I even detected what I thought was the distinctive smell of TCP, but that could have been the perfume of the lady I was jammed up against in what is best described as an intimate setting.
Mixing soliloquies depicting the lives of a variety of wartime women with cleverly worked audience participation theatre, the quartet of ladies that is Rose Tinted Glass Theatre transport us back seventy years to the Blitz, with rationing, romance, flings and, of course, the ever present threat of death.
It’s a poignantly written and staged piece from a group that specialises in re-creating history for the theatre. It clearly draws on memories of those who experienced the Blitz at first hand and someone had obviously done archive research on life at that point in this island’s history. This allows the actors to create well rounded characters, using accents typical of the clipped received pronunciation found in ladies of a certain class back then and costumes appropriate to the period added to the war-time feel. There were some nicely formed storylines for each of the twin central characters with the other two shelter “hosts” playing a variety of vignettes. These included one particularly poignant “dear diary” description of the effort that went into collecting the ingredients for a fruit cake and the sense of triumph in the finished article. And with the actors sitting amongst the audience you had that real feeling of being in what must have been an extremely distressing situation as the bombs rained down from the unseen aircraft above.
A pity then, that some of their sound effects may not have been historically accurate. Picky reviewers can be the bane of artists lives, but I’m sure I heard jet aircraft during the air-raid sequence rather than the distinctive drone of propeller. Railway buffs might also have spotted a sound track from what I believe was an American steam locomotive during a particularly sensitive moment that had a distinct Brief Encounter feel to it, when what was really needed was a toot from a wheezy British tank engine. And the “all clear” that signalled the end of this interesting reconstruction sounded much like the signal for the initial air-raid warning that sent us scurrying for the shelter in the first place. Lighting was sparse (we were in a blackout after all) but some of the spots could have been used to better effect.
Those points aside, this was a simple, well constructed attempt at re-creating life in what was arguably Britain’s darkest hour. It makes you realise just what we take for granted in the 21st century, including not having to eat stale cake.