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The Winston Machine at New Diorama Theatre | Review

Given the Kandinsky company’s ten-year history of theatrical experimentation, The Winston Machine was never going to be a conventional biodrama dedicated to the life and times of Britain’s renowned wartime leader.

The Winston Machine - credit Cesare De Giglio.
The Winston Machine – credit Cesare De Giglio.

Its aims are rather more ambitious than that, and what emerges from this free-ranging and hyperactive hour-and-a-bit is the sense of Churchill not so much as an individual but as a sort of climate in which this nation has lived for the best part of a century.

His presence, and indeed his past, are everywhere, permeating lives in their private as much as their public enactments. Here is young Charlotte, all red lips and passion, as bent on defeating fascism as she is on winning the heart of a young Spitfire pilot.

The calendar flips to and fro between that time and our own here-and-now, in which we find Charlotte’s virtually identical (same actor) granddaughter Becky. This young woman may be a millennial creature and hence, you could say, a child of much liberty. Yet what do we find her doing but cooking for her father and reprising old songs about a brighter future at the weddings of others.

What then is the machine of the title? Nothing automated or H.G. Wellsian, but rather the capacity, and spiked yearning of a generation to speak to and be spoken to by its physically vanished but spiritually present forbears. Hence the haunting refrains of Vera Lynn, a voice freighted with peace not only for the world conflicts of the past but also for the emotional crises of the present.

The great success of director James Yeatman and his hard-worked cast of three is to make these temporal transactions meaningful as well as momentous. Inevitably, some shape-shifting is called for, not least when an Oliver Hardy figure (from the wartime comedy duo Laurel and Hardy) appears, cosy but sinister, then morphs into a Churchill ablaze with crazed violence.

Items become charged with symbolism by the passage of decades, none more so than the blue RAF jacket jauntily sported these eighty years on by the young (black) suitor of a girl and driving her father into a classic apoplexy of Dad-rage.

Perhaps it is misleading to say that Yeatman draws performances of high commitment from Nathaniel Christian, Rachel-Leah Hosker and Hamish Macdougall since they are billed as performer-devisers in their own right. What is certain is that their combined effort shows how engaging our past in conversation can be not just an entertaining way of talking to ourselves, but a constructive one too.

4 stars

Review by Alan Franks

At the height of the Blitz, Charlotte is in a passionate affair with a Spitfire pilot, fighting fascism in red lipstick and living each day like her last. Eighty years later, her granddaughter Becky is stuck in her hometown, cooking dinners for her dad and singing old songs at other people’s weddings, dreaming of a better time.

The 1940s are more real to Becky than her life, but when a friend moves back to town, she’s forced to face the present.

What happens when there’s no war left to fight?

Creative Team
Director James Yeatman
Dramaturg & Producer Lauren Mooney
Associate Director Segen Yosef
Production Manager Crin Claxton
Co-designers Joshua Gadsby & Naomi Kuyck-Cohen
Composer Zac Gvirtzman
Sound Designer Kieran Lucas
Stage Manager Grace Hans
Engagement Producer Peter Laycock

Company of performer-devisers
Hamish McDougall
Nathaniel Christian
Rachel-Leah Hosker

25 January – 19 February 2022


  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.com

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