Thursday, November 10, 2011

Keep Calm and Carry On -Review- Customs House

Keep Calm and Carry On 
Customs House
9 November 2011

Blitz-Plagued London, 1940, and Mary Robson dreams of an escape - entertaining the troops on stage. However her parents Ellie and Joe don't hold the same aspirations for her.
Follow Mary's coming of age in this brand new heart-warming play, packed with humour, and tenderness.
Will Mary's dreams of a life on stage live up to her expectations?

On a stage that comprised of a typical front room of that era, we were bang in the middle of war time; with the air raid siren screaming and Joe coming in with his MP uniform, after a hard day on the streets.
The nostalgia was all around, especially with the dress of the character's, all immaculate-in that blood,guts and shrapnel way!
Rachel Teate, who is not unfamiliar with wartime plays, (she last performed at The Customs House in 'The Machine Gunners') played our wannabe stage warrior, Mary. Having the will to try and overcome her parents, was a war that she was willing to endure, with some gusto and some heart warming scenes, she looked very comfortable in her role, and lit up the stage with her acting and singing, although at times I had to listen very carefully to her, as her projection wasn't as strong as the others in the cast.
We all might have guessed that a love interest for Mary, would be in the equation. Colin, an army man, played by James Hedley, came along to befriend Mary and share his thought on missing home and family life. Soon the relationship blossomed, far too quickly for Mary's parents Ellie (wonderfully played by Bidi Iredale) and Joe (Stewart Howson). Not happy with their daughter being away in the first place, gone from the family home, they now had to contend with fleeting visits with Colin in-tow. This made for some brilliant viewing, with tense scenes, being overtaken by some very witty dialogue.
The close knit family was complete with (live in) Gran, displaying and creating a 'let's all pull together' attitude. This was very warm and funny to watch, this took me back to my Gran's time, with all of the lovely things she used to say and do. I thank Rosalind Bailey, who played Gran, for getting the best out of her character and making me gently smile.
Whilst life on the road entertaining the troops, had its up's, it certainly had its down's. Mary, whilst performing met the very gentlemanly caddish Len. Working together, to show solidarity to the troops, their relationship soured and brought more worry for the family. Lawrence Stubbings gave a superb performance of the love him one minute, hate him the next character.
Helen Russell, the playwright (our local and national actress who has starred in 'Dirty Dusting' and 'Three Devoted Sisters' to name but a few) wrote Keep Calm, not about herself, but it certainly lends a lot to her early life of wartime activity, her life on the stage and entertaining the troops. She must be very pleased with the way it all went down.
As ever, the Customs House production squad kept us in the picture, with Ali Hickman (Lights), Chris Allen (Sound) and Simon Henderson (set design) putting on a great showing.
Jackie Fielding, directing, has put a lot of faith in her actors, the results were there to see, with each and every part being skilfully gobbled up by the superb array of actors on stage.
Keep Calm and Carry On, hits right at the heart of family life, with its troubles and overpowering love. It is essential viewing.
Keep Calm and Carry on plays until Saturday 12th

Michael Hunter
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