Pros: Lighthearted and unrepentantly silly, this production is bound to leave a smile on your face.
Cons: Delves a bit too deep into nostalgia at times, and the jokes occasionally err on the side of quantity over quality.
The year is 1942. A platoon of American GIs has just arrived in the British village of Nether Mollington, and have already set about causing havoc in the local area. They’ve persecuted cats, brawled with locals, and stuck vegetables in unusual places. They are about to receive an almighty dressing down from their colonel (Dan March), as well as an education in British etiquette from a local English Major (Matt Sheahan). In a conceit which, for the most part, works, here it is the audience who are in the firing line – taking the place of the misbehaving US soldiers – and they are about to receive a serious bollocking.
What follows is an entertaining and extremely silly crash course on the British culture of seventy-five years ago. It’s funny at times, and pretty weird at others. It’s saturated with references to quirky British traditions and idioms, and practically drips with nostalgia. The bullish American Colonel Attwood (a kind of Alec Baldwin lite) is pitted against the perma-flustered Major Randolph Gibbons, while Lieutenant Schultz (James Millard) acts as a kind of wise-guy mediator between the two as they try to reach some common ground. The trio work well together, providing a seemingly endless stream of gags, most of which land. Personally, Americans mispronouncing British place names is always a winner (and I’m sure the reverse is true for our trans-Atlantic cousins – you should hear me trying to pronounce ‘Maryland’), and although the jokes do sometimes feel laboured the play keeps a refreshingly brisk pace throughout.
Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain is as much as an education for many of its audience as it would have been for the GIs visiting Britain for the first time over seven decades ago; many of the things referenced in the play are probably equally alien to people from either side of the Atlantic. Major Gibbons’ explanation of the UK’s old monetary system was a real highlight in this regard, and his vivacious mini-lecture on the subject deservedly drew applause.
The actors – who make up the comedy trio The Real MacGuffins – gel together well, though on occasion their attempts at audience interaction are a bit wide of the mark. Having said that, other moments of crowd participation are pretty spot on. The three switch effortlessly between roles (Millard particularly excels when in drag), and maintain a buoyancy which prevents some of the more mediocre moments from dragging the show down. There’s some inventive and effective comic stagecraft at work here, too, especially in the second half where happily things become a bit more unpredictable.
Running at just under two hours, the production is slightly on the long side considering the short nature of its source material – a pamphlet printed in 1942, from which the show takes its name. However, Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain presents the ultimately benign cultureclash between the UK and the US with aplomb, and an offers an amusing glimpse into a time when the differences between our two cultures were more clearly pronounced.
Writers: Dan March, Jim Millard, Matt Sheahan and John Walton
Producer: Fol Espoir in association with Jermyn Street Theatre
Booking Until: 29 July 2017
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking Link: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/instructions-american-servicemen-britain/