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Edinburgh Fringe 2015

Troublesome People by Jill Haas

Ashrow Theatre

Genre: Drama, Theatre

Venue: The Quaker House, Venue 40


Low Down

“Troublesome People examines the Second World War through the eyes of conscientious objectors, Jewish refugees and arable farmers all working on the Isle of Man. With a cast of seven, this play explores the courage and bravery required by everyone during WWII and helps highlight the plight of these individuals surviving on the periphery of a global war, whether by choice or circumstance. Jill Haas is a prize-winning American author now resident in the UK.”


The time is January, 1940 and Britain is immersed in the hardship and the terrors of war. We find ourselves on the Isle of Man in a farmhouse. The couple who live there have hired a conscientious objector, Sam Bankes played by Harry Owens and his wife Honey Bankes, played by Alison Harris to replace the hired hands they had before the war, who have now gone off to serve in the military to defend their country.

Looking back at history, we do not realize how hated and reviled people were who refused to fight against the axis and defend their homeland. This play paints an accurate, unvarnished view of the way the majority of people in this country refused to accept a concept that is universally understood today. “This is your world, not mine,” Sam says to his hosts. “This slaughter cannot go on.”

The farmer and his wife, Ossie and Doreen Humber, are played by Glen Kinch and Shelley Draper. Their characters embody the attitude of the time. UK citizens all believed the war was justified and our enemies were evil monsters who must be eradicated to save the human race. Fighting the Germans was making the world a better place for humanity. Anyone who disagreed with this attitude was labelled a traitor and less of a person. They were ostracized on every level.

As the play continues, the farm becomes an unintended haven for Leni Hirschon, a German Jew who fled her country, persecuted and diminished because she was Jewish. Rowan Scarborough plays Leni and she is amazingly sensitive to the conflict and anguish her character suffers through no fault of her own.   The farmhouse community also includes Leo Tebrich (Phil Reeve) a teen-ager sent to safety from Eastern Europe on the Kinder Transport. He is lonely and afraid; his family has been taken away from him and he is trying desperately to become an adult before his time.

The interaction, the conflict and the hidden resentment of all seven of these people are expertly played out through action more than words. The original play was over two hours long and has been trimmed to essentials in one hour and twenty-five minutes production, but it still manages to emphasize the essential message of this drama. As Leni Hirschon says, “Why are we all punished? What terrible crimes have we all done?”

The play war examines the bravery and loyalty demanded of everyone during World War II. This production highlights the plight of individuals surviving on the periphery of this mass attitude of kill or be killed.  The set is a perfect period piece; the pacing is excellent and the message profound. This reviewer was particularly impressed with Jenny Earl’s interpretation of Mrs. Stanton, the woman who placed these people in the farmhouse. One could feel her plight as she tried to help her clients find a place where they could be safe and unafraid. We watched her juggle fears and pacify prejudices to convince the conservative farmer and his wife that the displaced persons she was trying to help were not villains. They were people in desperate need.

The drama, even in its shortened version, is a penetrating study of people whose ideals are put to the test in a real life situation. When one comes face to face with a type of person whose moral code is opposite of his own, he sees that he is not dealing with just words that define a belief. He finds himself faced with a real human being with needs and dreams like his own. When that happens, one must question the absolutes that define his own life. The question in this play is: who can decide what is right or wrong for someone else?

This is a thoughtful piece that raises important philosophical challenges that are as present in today’s world as they were during the war.