Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“In the last two years, Searchlight Theatre have cast their beam on Noel Coward and most recently on Laurel and Hardy. Both productions received rave reviews and played to full houses. Now a British Prime Minister, who is often regarded as our least effective and most unpopular. This new production asks why. His desire was peace in our time, his legacy was nearly six years of war. The play is set just before his famous radio broadcast to the nation informing Britain that she was at war with Germany. WWII songs are threaded cleverly throughout.”
This fifty-five minute, two-hander is a new play from Searchlight Theatre. Set in the hours before the beginning of the Second-World War and the moments before the British Prime Minister’s personally and nationally fateful BBC radio broadcast that announced war with Germany, this is an intense, well-penned and excellently acted piece, simply staged, yet sophisticated in terms of the character acting and musical delivery that underpins it.
The acting is of a very night standard. These are two believable characters and their rapport is palpable. That creates an authenticity to the piece as the world-building around the performance is a success. I sensed a pre-war London around me and also a Europe on the brink of fatal conflict. As audience we were witnesses to something vital in the biography of Britain. I’m not sure I’ve seen a deep treatment of Chamberlain here at the Fringe before.
This company has done its research and the Prime Minister who took us into a second war in the 20th Century is brought to life successfully through a combination of carefully chosen costume and finely studied character acting.
Staging is simple and the use of aptly chosen songs from the times add tenderness, sadness and occasional painful irony.
This is a very satisfying two-hander, all the more powerful as theatre for its bold use of silence and slowness. Occasionally it is too slow for its own good. Chamberlain wanted to avoid war to the last and here he wants to put off the delivery of shattering news to the nation for as long as possible. Ultimately we revisit the question: was war inevitable and foreseeable due to the long-held desire for empire held by Hitler ?
Was Chamberlain’s belief that a person should be taken at their word naïve or short sighted ? Was appeasement the ultimate decision that would consign him to history casting him in an unfavorable light. This play has Churchill waiting literally in the wings to pick up the mantle of war general as well as Prime Minster. In this piece, Chamberlain predicts his own end, resigned, yet somehow frustrated and even irritated – despite the looming deaths of many people – there is nothing he would have done differently.
We are drawn into all of this and the wider context looms, even lurks around us as we become ever more intensely offered a very personal insight into the life of a man, a leader in his very final hours as that leader, drinking whisky, musing and brooding upon his state, his deceased brother Austen,a fellow statesman, and reflecting on what might have been, what is now, and what will be. This is a frame play – the story of a man, reflecting upon is place in history and his fate, framed within the unresolved and dangerous story of a nation, a continent.
All of this is done with a fine attention to detail, accomplished performances, apt and delightfully delivered music. In places the pacing could be further explored, it slows too much, and even if that is historically authentic, as theatre there’s an occasional drop in dramatic force and impetus . Other than that minor quibble, this is top quality fringe theatre examining and presenting a key hour in our modern history. Highly recommended.