FringeReview UK 2018
The Colab Factory’s production of Owen Kingston’s For King and Country is an immersive perambulation: the old factory’s underground rooms lovingly scattered with authentic and repro War Room material is about as naturalistic as going down Churchill’s bunker. This is the back-up. Till June 10th.
We’re immersed in December 1940. The French fleet’s been commandeered by the Germans for a day out at Brighton and Dover. It’s an invasion with a toehold and Prime Minister Halifax is dithering about resigning.
‘Cup of tea dear?’ Lauren Reed’s Cousin Betty cut-glasses a cuppa and we’re served these throughout. Or there’s a King’s shilling you can swap a pound for to purchase at the bar. The Colab Factory’s production of Owen Kingston’s For King and Country is an immersive perambulation: the old factory’s underground rooms lovingly scattered with authentic and repro War Room material is about as naturalistic as going down Churchill’s bunker. This is the back-up, and we’re the designated survivors in case the Churchill bunker vanishes, a clutch of MPs (parties designated to provide debate). Unthinkable. Then the unthinkable happens. Peter Dewhurst’s Douglas Remington-Hobbs provides a Yes Minister’s 1940 guide to us, those who’ll now decide how the war’s run. We’re given a tour by Christopher Styles’ engagingly woffly Major Timothy Smythe, Edward Andrews’ Squadron Leader James Muir, and urgent attendance from Zoe Flint’s Flight Lieutenant Elsie Harvey. The surreal addition of a Rev William Sinclair (Michael Thomas) and vestigally writer/director Owen Kingston as Captain Howard RN warns us just how bustling this will become.
The audience must now designate a PM, a War Minister and Propaganda Minister. We’re ushered to rows and then asked to decide, then discuss. The genius of this situationist piece is how the audience’s individual knowledge and predilections work themselves out as overhead the planes and crumps of bombs become insistent, blackouts occur, the radio broadcasts of propaganda are hastily scripted and delivered (by a French member here) and we’re shuttled to maps with coloured pins showing us a range of options. Nearby is a BBC mic, and elsewhere the green laps and even elsewhere the copper soap canister gleam in wartime gloom. Each decision is then relayed, and a historical advisor Tom Black is consulted – especially for heterodox decisions – clarifies our options. (My questions on gas use and the adoption of bomb racks on Hurricane IIs as well as the state of Tangmere airfield certainly scored on the nerdy, scale, but I was far from alone).
There’s far more that can’t possibly be revealed, or the review would have to eat you. I just over two and a half hours we’re immersed in decisions through a fug of wartime excitement, confusions of alarum and strife and learn more about ourselves an dour accidental colleagues than we could possibly have imagined, or sometimes wished. Especially voting on or off party lines.
Kingston’s vision is enormous fun too. And touching. The actor’s aren’t scripted but enveloped in role, and each night will be different: that’s down to you and I.
This is a thrilling, clever, immensely informed and imagined experience. Everything from uniforms and propos, to historical accuracy (I asked a lot of hard questions in my guise as reluctant Tory MP for Chelmsford) to the actors’ in-role responses was exemplary. If you want to know what might have happened, this is as exciting, informative and perhaps as authentic experience as you could encounter.