FringeReview Scotland 2013
Firebrand Theatre bring back to the stage what was an impressive debut that has stood the test of time well. The female pilot who, in 1930’s Soviet Russia attempts to be man’s equal gets caught up with the affairs of men and the support of female colleagues. A gem of a play given theatre time by a gem of a company.
Lily is a flyer. In the 1930’s Soviet Union this ought to be a good thing but her attempts to be taken seriously by the male pilots demonstrates that never mind the big boy politics , sexual politics remain in the cooler as she begins an ill fated affair with Alexei before the eyes of the real heroine of the piece; Ina. Ina is an engineer who wanted to fly. Unfortunately in comparison to Lily she does not have the flair or the confidence that this Princess of the air brings and she completes the war whilst her two compatriots appear to be lost within it.
The desire for theatre companies to find the latest new thing can lead to plays gathering dust on a shelf that are equal to the new work that all too often attracts the funding. One of the major issues for Scottish theatre can be to find a cannon of work we would identify as classic. We can be reverential over some of our national treasures but still expect them to bring new dishes to our tables when they have already delivered well before. White Rose has not dated though the Brechtian style required to tell the tale can feel slightly dated. Nevertheless this is a play that ought to be better known than it is.
As it has a Brechtian feel it can make empathy for the characters difficult. On top of that both Alexei and Lily are hard, if not impossible to like. He is a clichéd sexist in a comrades’ uniform whilst she has denied her femininity until she can sleep her way somewhere; you are never sure if it takes her anywhere. It is clearly harsh to judge these two in the context of their fight against fascism as it may be rather hot and bothered over staying alive and winning a war rather than gathering your sympathies. Both Lily and Alexei were well played with convincing portrayals in both cases. Ina’s portrayal by Alison O’Donnell, left me a little cold at the beginning but as time progressed I warmed more to the naive young engineer who seemed in awe of the two pilots but actually turned out to be more heroic and politically aware. With echoes of Man and Superman, this is a fascinating study of Ina’s ambition which can be overshadowed by both Alexei and Lily; by the end of the piece Ina was centre stage.
I adore the posters of the 1930’s and the images used in Soviet propaganda so the functional and clever use of projection worked well for me whilst the simple lockers – which were far from simple – bookended the stage as a backdrop to the performances. Their functionality set well within the Soviet based play.
Second productions can be very rare and sometimes it would appear that companies become wary because it is hardly innovative to do what others have done before. This, form the evidence of this production is clearly muddle headed. Scottish theatre is about much more than Black Watch and the Steamie. Worthy though both of these are it is great to see companies reviving work like this. It is a proper two act play written by a proper Scottish playwright about proper dramatic events set outside of Scotland but with a tremendous amount to say about sexual politics now.
This production gives us the opportunity for us to take in what was important in the eighties and as a window on what is important now it works very well. I have seen this company before and their ability to bring back to the stage new interpretations of contemporary Scottish plays. It is worthy of support through funding and well worth a visit with your bum in a seat.
I enjoyed this immensely though think that some of the set pieces were overly shouty and direct thus doing more than distancing us from being able to empathise but reminiscent of agit prop theatre when the writing could have been more relaxed in their delivery. The production is still touring so this may alter as time progresses.