Pros: A well-performed show with interesting subject matter.
Cons: The plot is difficult to follow. The lines between what is real and what is not are too blurred.
There’s an odd idea being brought to life at The Hen and Chickens Theatre— it’s a “tragicomedy musical” set amongst some interesting and engaging historical subject matter. The performance tells the story of a British plot hatched during World War II to have the body of a marine, Major William Martin RM, wash up dead on a Spanish beach with a briefcase full of falsified secret papers detailing plans of false invasions, which distracted Hitler and the Nazis from actual invasion locations.
The catch is that the body is not of a Marine; it is the body of homeless Welshman Glyndwr Michael, who was killed and thrown into the sea to turn the tides of the Second World War – oh, and did I mention it’s set to a musical soundtrack?
The show is performed through a series of flashbacks, and jumps around through time and space. The cast are eager, enthusiastic, and likeable. Major William Martin RM and homeless Welsh vagrant Glyndwr Michael are charmingly played by the same actor. He suits the 1940s setting wonderfully, and adapts his voice suitably for the role both in signing and speaking, which does well to bring the performance to life.
The songs are delightfully catchy and reasonably well performed—albeit some do contain a few flat notes. A song about not wanting to go to the seaside is a sweet toe-tapper, and the well-performed tunes on the keyboard add a really lovely nostalgic atmosphere and melody to the show.
Where the production is let down is by the confusing nature of the subject matter. It is near impossible to tell what actually existed, what is the source of the imagination of the characters, and what is completely poetic license where all elements are concerned. The historical facts in this scenario are incredible subject matter, but it’s very difficult to understand what happened, what we wish would have happened, and who is “real”?
That the actors play differing roles with minimal and often unexplained changes makes the story doubly difficult to follow. We’re asked to follow along with the love story of Bill and a young Nurse, but the official line is that William Martin never existed. For what purpose do we imagine his non-existent life? The story of Glyndwr Michael is far more relevant and clear to follow, but who is the Matron from the hospital feeding him poisoned food in a warehouse? And why?
The stage setting of the play contributes well to the overall atmosphere; the creaky metal bed seems dually appropriate for both a hospital bed and a working class household – and it makes a clever boat for a beach invasion. A hospital privacy screen painted with a European map helps to remind us of the geographical field we are navigating, and allows for some scene switching, although I maintain that the subtle adjustments to the characters do not do enough to distinguish one role from another.
It’s well performed, and a truly interesting concept for a show. The songs are a delight, and I just regret that I wasn’t able to follow the storyline with more understanding. This is a very charming cast; I only wish I understood the narrative as much as I enjoyed their performance.
Author: Paul Tibbey and Mark Sims
Producer: Balls in the Air Productions
Booking Until: 23rd August 2014
Booking Link: https://cam.tickets.red61.com/performances.php?eventId=3113:287