Such was the staging for Spring Offensive, with a dining room ambience, that a member of the audience felt quite comfortable putting his drink on a table that was, technically, part of the set. The show takes place over the course of a late afternoon and evening, in which dinner is eventually served at what the press release for the show calls a bed and breakfast. As I don’t understand the concept of an evening meal at a B&B, at least not when there is no milestone such as a birthday to be marked, it is useful to point out that when the telephone rings, calls are answered by giving the name of the establishment, ‘April’s Guest House and Tea Room’.
If only that were the only quibble with this production. Having characters sat at the dinner table was not, to be blunt, ideal for an in-the- round performance. The trio move around rather too much, as it happens, given they are supposed to be sat at the table, but nonetheless certain sections of the audience faces a character’s back for a tad too long. Mentions of Brexit and UKIP in the second half come across as lazy scriptwriting, particularly as such terms are merely namedropped, with no attempt, meaningful or not, to relate them to the main narrative, or even expand on them at all. They may as well have mentioned, for instance, Stonehenge and the Isle of Man at random with no further elaboration.
There are, however, glimpses of brilliance in the script, most of which occur early on. The passive-aggressiveness of April (Victoria Willing), the establishment’s owner, towards Pam (Maggie Daniels) is palpable, in stark contrast to her warmth towards Tom (Tony Turner), apparently a Colonel. Tom, too, turns against Pam, seeing her as something of an interference in his line of work, the way local police detectives didn’t care much for Jessica Fletcher in the CBS Television series Murder, She Wrote. But all three have secrets, which come out one way or another, and there seems to be a cathartic release once all is revealed.
Tom is the sort of character that hard-line feminists might consider representative of all men, particularly in his dismissiveness of Pam’s views largely because of her gender. He doesn’t actually use the words “stupid woman” – he is not completely without tact and sophistication – but lashes out at a mere difference of opinion. People like April and Tom are, when it comes down to it, just supplying a service there is demand for, one of the basic principles of a capitalist mindset. What they are doing in this part of France relates to World War One and the ever-growing interest in people wanting to visit wartime landmarks.
A ‘tour’ in the show made me think of a school trip, many, many moons ago, to the Imperial War Museum. We were expected to crouch down at one point because a supposed ‘bomb’ may or may not be falling from the sky and heading towards us. To this day I haven’t a clue how mere crouching would have been a sufficient defence against the Luftwaffe, and felt the exercise, the brainchild of school teachers and not of the museum, was pointless. “Where’s your sense of fun?” was the response to my complaint. The ‘tour’ of a spring offensive (ahem) in this show wasn’t nearly as immersive, but here, as with my experience decades ago, the scene trivialised war. This time, of course, this was what the show set out to highlight, and it does so very well through the crassness of a battle re-enactment, mercifully cut short by the revelation of the play’s critical incident.
This is, in the end, an interesting assessment of how the events of World War One are being remembered a century on. All quiet on the Western Front? No. Not in this eventful and multi-layered production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Welcome to the best Bed and Breakfast on the Somme…
Expat April runs a quality establishment on the site of some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. Death surrounds it. And sheep, lots of sheep.
There’s dinner to be served and history to pay tribute to. The guests are coming, the sheep are closing in. The table is set for an evening they’ll all remember.
Victoria Willing’s new play is a dark comedy about war, lost boys and fighting for survival.
Writer – Victoria Willing
Director – Marie McCarthy
Producer – Juliet Clark
Associate Producer – Michelle Owoo
Designer – Grace Smart (Winner of The Linbury Prize)
Assistant Director – Ria Samartzi
Tue 18 – Sun 30 April 2017
For ages 14+