A tale of love laced with secret betrayal and self-interest, all set against the backdrop of the Second World War – perhaps not exactly the most festive of offerings from The New Theatre for the final week of term. However, a plot which threatened to be a tiresome love triangle in which Patricia Graham struggles to tell her Flight-Lieutenant husband that she is leaving him for her old flame, Hollywood actor Peter Kyle, was in fact transformed into a gripping, sensitive and frequently humorous two and a half hours.
The atmosphere between the group of fighter pilots and their wives moves from awkward tension to typically jovial British good humour and positivity. The arrival of Kyle threatens this easy existence. Izzy Scrimshire plays the bitter, jealous lover to perfection, although at times, whether intentionally or not, he lacks warmth and vulnerability, which pushes the audience’s sympathies in the direction of Team Teddy. The character of Teddy Graham, bound by patriotic duty yet consumed by fear is evoked powerfully by Pete Cary, who makes Teddy’s struggle to suppress this internal conflict almost tangible to the audience who are mesmerised by the extremities of his behaviour.
The play is made more emotive and engaging thanks to strong performances from lead actresses Christey Nethercott, Laura K Thomson and Tegan Jolly, whilst Katie Barrie also plays eccentric matronly Mrs Oakes brilliantly. Acclaim must also go to James McAndrew’s Polish Count Skriczevinsky who lightens the atmosphere on a number of occasions, providing a continual stream of slapstick comedy with his convincing broken English, stealing the show somewhat with his confusion between the words ‘pheasants’ and ‘peasants’.
The only other comedy moment which came close to this was the unexpected opening night occurrence which found Peter Kyle (Izzy Scrimshire) having to, mid scene, subtly and rather ironically stamp out a wayward cigarette that was quietly burning through the carpet after earlier declaring to Mrs Oakes just how inflammable he was. Obviously this shouldn’t be expected for every performance and was hopefully a one off!
The set design enhances the atmosphere of the play in its imitation of a homely, relaxed setting, whilst the presence of a reception desk, a waiter call bell and the bar remind the audience that this is not a private abode; it is still a public environment and for this reason private affairs should remain concealed. However, the fact that they are not concealed but aired quite freely adds to the central theme of merging and conflicting public and private duty.
The play’s setting during the Second World War is made very apparent through the evocative use of sound to represent the taking off and landing of planes and the noise of guns. Intelligent consideration is given to lighting which is used to represent the necessity for blackout, a feature reflective of the period the play is set in. It is also cleverly used to signal the time of day to the audience, aiding the chronology of the play. Frequent and lengthy silences also feature heavily in the performance and provide heightened poignancy to moments of particular emotional tension between the characters. The time period is also reflected in perfect costuming that showed real attention to detail.
All in all, the ‘will she/won’t she’ storyline of the play is made engaging and entertaining by the solid performances of the cast, as well as a good, light-hearted side serving of humour.