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Peace in Our Time by Noël Coward at the Union Theatre | Review

Patrick Bailey & Virge Gilchrist in Peace in Our Time - Photographer Phil Swallow.
Patrick Bailey & Virge Gilchrist in Peace in Our Time – Photographer Phil Swallow.

A cast of twenty in a production at a studio theatre – just as well Peace In Our Time is set in a busy local pub run by Fred (Patrick Bailey) and Nora Shattock (Virge Gilchrist). Set in the Second World War, Shattock refuses to close his pub, The Shy Gazelle, even when his own daughter Doris (Molly Crookes) suggests a short break wouldn’t hurt. The premise of the play is itself rather intriguing – what would happen if the Luftwaffe won the Battle of Britain (10 July to 31 October 1940) instead of the RAF and other Allied aircraft? The play assumes that a Nazi invasion would then have taken place, and while there’s no serious indication that the British would find themselves having to learn German, there are some attempts by Nazi officials such as Albrecht Richter (Joseph Tyler Todd) to encourage enthusiasm for Herr Fuhrer.

This is, unfortunately, hardly up there with some other Noel Coward plays such as Private Lives or Blithe Spirit. For one thing, it is twenty minutes (or maybe even more) too long. The opening comes as a bit of a shock to the system, particularly for those who haven’t been to a play in which it is presumed that the Third Reich successfully invaded Britain before, but as the evening progresses, the usual patriotism of British war plays perhaps inevitably seeps through. It is telling that a speech from novelist Janet Braid (Carlotta Lucking) attacking Chorley Bannister’s (Dominic McChesney) being civil, even friendly, to Nazi officials gets the most rousing response of the night from the audience.

If only more of the script was as riveting. While it is quite natural, for instance, for a resistance movement against the Nazis to take shape in Britain in the circumstances, the manner in which some of the details are divulged borders on lunacy. Stevie (Samuel Oakes), Fred and Nora’s son, who has some involvement in the resistance, caves in and blurts out pretty much all the salient points, ostensibly to calm his mother’s nerves. Of course, the lady of the house now being aware of how much danger her flesh and blood is in puts her anxiety into overdrive. And why put one’s own family at risk by telling them things that are strictly on a need to know basis? As for the audience needing to follow developments, a direct address would have sufficed.

Interestingly, German occupation still leaves rationing in force, despite the propaganda from the BBC (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) stating everything is fine and a glorious future awaits the nation under the leadership of the Fuhrer. The quality of the beverages on sale at the pub gradually goes down, but an analogy I drew at the interval between that and the play had to be ditched (mercifully) by the end, as the second half is better than the first, though the whole thing is a very slow burner, and at one point I seriously wondered if the resistance was being played out in real-time.

There are moments of comic relief (it’s a Coward play, after all), including the use of British English idioms to confuse German officials, and in the general banter between the pub’s regular customers. The set (Reuben Speed) works brilliantly, inventively solving the problem of how to portray a bar without too many characters speaking upstage for too long. With current events at the time of writing being what they are, there is some relatability in the exploration of how locals pull together at a time of crisis and uncertainty, but that is mere coincidence. But at the end of the day, there’s a reason why some plays aren’t revived very often – put bluntly, there are better shows to revive instead. That said, the costumes (Penn O’Gara) and the cast are in fine form.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Defeated in war, can we ever survive the peace? A rare chance to see the forgotten drama of 1940’s Britain under Nazi occupation, in the UK’s first-ever revival.

Peace in Our Time envisions the Nazi war machine managing to fight through the Battle of Britain and landing on the island. The piece, as expected due to its subject matter, is unusual for its heavy tone, taking a darker approach than the comedic feel featured in most of Coward’s plays.

The play takes its title from the common misquotation of Conservative leader Neville Chamberlain’s phrase during a massively publicized speech after he arrived back from the Munich Conference of 1938. While the British Prime Minister referred to having “peace for our time”, the saying is often remembered as “peace in our time”.

Peace In Our Time
Written By Noël Coward
Director: Phil Willmott
Set Design: Reuben Speed
Sound Design: Ralph Warman
Assistant Director: Kit Pope
Costume Design: Penn O’Gara
Casting Director: Adam Braham
Producer: Sasha Regan
Associate Producer: Maison Kelley

CAST:
FRED SHATTOCK – Patrick Bailey
NORA SHATTOCK – Virge Gilchrist
DORIS SHATTOCK – Molly Crookes
STEPHEN SHATTOCK – Samuel Oakes
PHYLLIS MERE – Liv Fowler
LYIA VIVIAN – Caitlin Rutter
GEORGE BOURNE – Helen Rose-Hampton
JANET BRAID – Carlotta Lucking
CHORLEY BANNISTER – Dominic McChesney
MR. GRAINGER – Anthony Keetch
MRS. GRAINGER – Katy Feeney
BILLY GRAINGER – Robert Lane
ALMA BOUGHTON – Jemima Watling
MRS. MASSITER – Katy Feeney
BOBBY PAXTON – Joe Mason
ALFIE BLAKE – Malcolm Davies
LILY BLAKE – Sue Swallow
DOCTOR VENNING – Will Forester
ALBRECHT RICHTER – Joseph Tyler Todd
KURT FORSTER – Joe Mason

PUB CUSTOMERS & GESTAPO – The Company.

PEACE IN OUR TIME
BYNoel Coward
Part of the Phil Willmott Company’s Essential Classics season 2020: V.E DAY – 75 YEARS ON.
DATES11th March – 4th April 2020
http://www.uniontheatre.biz/

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