Pros: Great comedy, a profound message and fantastic casting.
Cons: Slightly saccharine elements to the ending; unimaginative lighting.
As The Sweethearts started, I wasn’t filled with confidence. The first three characters you meet feel like they’ve fallen out of an army sitcom handbook. There’s the brainy one, who they make fun of for liking poetry and expressing feelings; the dumb one, who falls in line whenever he realises where it is; and the brawny one, who likes to talk about his many sexual conquests.
That’s not to say it wasn’t funny, it just relied fairly heavily on army stereotypes and I wasn’t sure I wanted to sit through an hour and a half of it. Luckily, The Sweethearts has other ideas. A chart-topping girl band are coming to visit Camp Bastion to perform for the troops, bringing with them egos, in-fighting, longing pasts and fear-filled futures. But just before The Sweethearts are about to go on stage, the camp is attacked.
As the play progresses, the tone’s lightness fades and the sitcom set-ups disappear. The final third leaves you shuffling uncomfortably, never having expected the ending that came along. This is a serious and profound take on celebrity culture, the nature of heroes and how our media treats famous young women.
The Finborough Theatre lies above a pub near Earl’s Court. There’s a pizza place next door that has a deal with the pub so you can order delicious, freshly made pizza with your pint. It’s a small, cushy space but gave the bunk-bed tent set the cramped feel it needed; you felt the real claustrophobia of shared living quarters.
Though the darker second half was what left the lasting feeling on me, it wouldn’t have worked without the well-directed comic timing of the beginning. In particular, performances by Maria Yarjah and Doireann May White as the other members of the band – that is, not the lead singer – were stage-commanding and attention-grabbing. Stevie Raine as Captain Thomas Nicholls deserves a mention too, embodying the respected, hardened man-of-war who has probably – for loss of a less cliché phrase – seen too much and really just wants to do well by his kids. Saying all that, the whole cast played off each other well in the tent filled with heightened emotions. Each member was as believable and engaging as the last – a definite casting success.
There weren’t many faults to see. Something slightly more exciting could’ve been done with lighting but it wasn’t really an issue – apart from one scene where a light confusingly came on, though that seemed like an on-the-night accident rather than mistaken direction. My companion was unsure about more happily-ever-after elements of the ending but I disagreed, you might not.
The Sweethearts is not a play that succeeds thanks to any one part, but rather a collection of great writing, thought-through direction and brilliant casting. It’s a play I plan to recommend to friends who don’t much care for theatre. I might go again.
Author: Sarah Page
Director: Daniel Burgess
Booking Until: 17 October 2015
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2015/the-sweethearts.php