From the moment you enter, greeted by a stage in-the-round in London’s ‘oldest new theatre’, the atmosphere of the evening’s entertainment is building. Imbued with Victorian architecture and Alexandra Palace’s own history as an internment camp during the First World War, the bricks and mortar of the building are as much a part of the production as the text and action on stage.
Based on the true story of a breakout from prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III during World War II, Tom, Dick & Harry tells the story of the three so-named escape tunnels and the people who dug them. Whilst based on a serious and largely devastating tale, the production highlights the courage, daring and camaraderie that was integral to the digging of these tunnels and the attempt to escape – resulting in an engaging and inspiring performance.
Moments of joy and comedy are created through the framing of the narrative onstage. Actors break the fourth wall in explicit reference to ‘artistic licence’ and members of the audience are given tasks that include them in scenes. The audience’s presence is vital to the dynamic storytelling, but on the night the actors also coped well when an audience member they’d given a role to disappeared momentarily, with one leaning into the production’s broken fourth wall and asking aloud if he had gone to the toilet. Moments like these – that improvise with the environment – add to the already compelling audience-performer relationship. Theresa Heskins’ direction of the in-the-round performance space is also key to this, as the action surrounds and plays well to the audience.
Performances are strong throughout; the cast is a fantastic and robust team. Their enacting of Beverley Norris-Edmunds’ exciting and complex movement direction is particularly stunning. Moments of the story are explored through seamless, dynamic movement as props and costumes are weaved in perfect timing, a boxing match is performed with epic slow motion, and tension is built through repeated action. Amongst a wealth of strong performances, David Fairs as Giesler is fantastic, maintaining a high level of intensity throughout and with excellent comedic timing.
Another highlight of this production is its use of song and music. Actors use objects onstage to contribute to musical backing, which feels like a nod to the prisoners of war using their limited resources creatively to build their escape. The ‘Amazing Grace’ sequence is particularly effective, again combined with compelling movement. Unfortunately, however, there were several moments throughout the show where words couldn’t be heard, particularly in Sam Craig’s otherwise brilliant solo moments with the guitar, and as a result the audience missed key lyrics, or, at other times, the punchline of a joke. These occurrences were few, but unfortunately disrupted the flow of the performance for some spectators.
With projection (Illuminos), lighting (Daniella Beattie) and sound (Alex Day), the production is technically exciting, accomplished and rounded — the action constantly supported by the stage environment. These elements are also crucial in creating the suspense that commandeers the prisoners’ escape, ensuring the audience are entirely invested. This investment makes the play’s ending particularly emotional.
The production is extremely entertaining, successfully sharing a story that was largely top secret for many years. Through music, movement, and excellent use of an ensemble cast, Tom, Dick and Harry makes a joyful and inspiring night’s entertainment.
Writers: Theresa Heskins, Michael Hugo, and Andrew Pollard
Director: Theresa Heskins
Producers: Kenny Wax and the New Vic
Movement Director: Beverley Norris-Edmunds
Composer and Musical Director: James Atherton
Set Designer: Laura Willstead
Costume Designer: Lis Evans
Lighting Designer: Daniella Beattie
Sound Designer: Alex Day
Calypso Song Composer: Tobago Crusoe
Projection Design: Illuminos
Tom, Dick & Harry plays at Alexandra Palace until 28 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.