Since the widespread explosive success of the National Theatre’s production of War Horse, the name of author Michael Morpurgo has been catapulted to the forefront of the nation’s theatrical consciousness, not least for Mercury Theatre Artistic Director, Daniel Buckroyd, who last year adapted and directed a stage production of Morpurgo’s The Butterfly Lion, which became the Mercury’s biggest selling show ever.
This year, the Mercury Theatre tackle another Morpurgo adaptation, Friend or Foe, a coming of age tale of two best friends, David and Tucky, set during the Second World War. Originally adapted by Buckroyd in 2011, Friend or Foe follows the two young evacuees on a bigger adventure than either had expected from their new home in Devon. No sooner have they got used to the peace and quiet before the boys witness the crash-landing of a German bomber. What follows is an encounter that will stay with the lads for the rest of their lives.
Matt Cullum, who was Movement and Associate Director on The Butterfly Lion, takes the helm for this energetic heart-warming production. His show is very physical, full of fun and retains a great sense of the child-like wonder of the unknown, not least helped by a wonderful cast. Séan Aydon and Jake Davies as Tucky and David share a delightful chemistry together, bouncing off of each other and guiding the audience through their adventure with boyish energy. Séan has great comic timing and is very likeable on-stage whilst Jake plays young David, and his desire to make his father proud, with touching sensitivity.
The other three members of the cast all play a number of parts and the multi-roling is used to great effect, especially so in the railway station scene, creating a convincing sense of hustle and bustle for such a small cast. Janet Greaves plays three strong female parts over the course of the show, the most prominent of which is Anne Reynolds, the farmer’s wife charged with helping raise the young protagonists, who she fills with real motherly warmth and care.
Chris Porter plays the majority of parts and his ability to inhabit their different characters, sometimes with little to no preparation time, is a joy to watch. The star of the show for me, though, is the wonderful Nicholas Tizzard, who plays Mr Reynolds, the reluctant farmer father figure. Tizzard’s Mr Reynolds is doubtful at first about taking in David and Tucky and his gradual transition from gruff, intimidating farmer to proud dad is played with subtlety and care.
Porter and Tizzard’s German airmen are on-stage for a shorter time than most of the other characters but the sense of brotherhood they share really helps to complicate the moral dilemma presented in the show.
Keith Baker’s simple set is a constant reminder of the what the boys are fleeing from and offers the cast space to really paint the picture of the story while Mark Dymock’s lighting highlights and transforms the set through a variety of locations, from a fiery night sky to underneath a busy river’s flow, with ease. Tom Lishman’s sound design is sublime and supports the cast at every turn. The choice of music feels very filmic, being brought in whenever needed to lend a sense of motion and momentum to the show.
All in all, Friend or Foe is a fantastic family-friendly show, which offers keen insight into the idea of a home from home for the World War II evacuees and raises an interesting discussion for audience members young and old. It encapsulates the great British spirit during times of such adversity without being overwhelming thanks to the subtle humour running through it. With it still at the Mercury until the 13th, I’d seriously recommend getting a ticket if you can.
Review by Ben Powell
Friend or Foe
Evacuated from London at the height of the Second World War, David and Tucky can’t help feeling as though the fighting is a long way from their new lives in the countryside. But then suddenly one night, the skyline is lit up with gun flashes and the distant sound of bombing shatters their new found peace. When a German plane crashes on their farm the boys are plunged into a breath-taking adventure and faced with a life-and-death moral dilemma.
FRIEND OR FOE By Michael Morpurgo
Adapted by Daniel Buckroyd
Directed by Matthew Cullum
Designed by Keith Baker
Lighting Designed by Mark Dymock
Sound Designed by Tom Lishman
Cast: Jake Davies as David, Sean Aydon as Tucky, Nicholas Tizzard as Billy Watts/Mr Reynolds/German Airman,
Chris Porter as Bus Driver, Mr Preston, British Officer, German Airman, Janet Greaves as Mrs Carey, Miss Roberts, Mrs Reynolds
Friend or Foe
Friday, August 29th to Saturday, September 13th
Performance times vary
Tickets from £10 to £25
www.mercurytheatre.co.uk or call the Ticket Sales Desk on 01206 573948.
Friday 5th September 2014