In the midst of another lockdown we continue to amuse ourselves with indoor pursuits. One of the few compensations is this online gem written by Steven Carl McCasland. Set in the French Alps, it offers the possibility that a soiree featured some of the greatest female writers of the period. Alice B. Tolkas and Gertrude Stein were darlings of the expatriate writing community in France and counted Ernest Hemmingway among their friends. Tolkas was Stein’s partner, muse and editor while the latter was a novelist of some renown. The pair decide to throw a dinner party, and the guest list is glistening with tension. Agatha Christie drops by with two friends in tow; Broadway playwright Lillian Hellman and screenwriter Dorothy Parker.
Our story begins with Tolkas (Catherine Russell) gently squabbling with Stein (Linda Bassett). It’s 1940, and the Nazis are sweeping inexorably across Western Europe. Tolkas is frantically making preparations for the party as maidservant Bernadette (Natasha Karp) busily tidies around them. The maid hides a dark secret, as does their first guest Mary (Sarah Solemani); a psychiatrist with extra strings to her bow. Circumstances dictate she stay for the evening, and she is fascinated by the guest list. The sharp-tongued Hellman (Juliet Stevenson) arrives with Parker (Debbie Chazen) who immediately demands a drink. Christie (Sophie Thompson) is fashionably late and assumes the position of referee in a lively exchange of opinions. The evening becomes increasingly charged, as a variety of subjects are dissected and world events begin to impinge on their domestic idyll.
Fantasy dinner parties are perennial favourites in the ‘what if’ scenario and McCasland’s line-up is a formidable one. Stein was known to be supportive of the Vichy Government during the years of occupation. Moreover, Hellman and Parker had left wing sympathies while Christie was famously pedantic. It’s a heady brew that works superbly as they all spark off each other. Set against the destruction and chaos of World War II, it has huge potential for both on stage and screen. A faultless cast add poise to a remarkable production given current restrictions. If I had seen this play live on stage it would have got the full monty of 5 stars, without a shadow of doubt.
Written by: Steven Carl McCasland
Directed by: Hannah Chissick
Produced by: Ginger Quiff Media/Drink the Ink/Guy Chapman
Little Wars is available to stream daily at 7.30 until 14 February, at the below link. Ticket price is £10 plus 3 booking fee.