Event review: ‘Radio Days Transmission Two: The War Years’ by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon

By - Tuesday 18th April, 2017

Advance Theatre Workshop Coulsdon. Long live the cause of freedom. God save the king!

Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulson, used with permission.

Theatre Workshop Coulsdon has been in existence for forty-six years and has an excellent reputation for innovative and independent work, performed to a very high standard. This reputation is definitely maintained, indeed enhanced, by its latest production: ‘Radio Days Transmission Two: The War Years’. It was staged from 1st April to 9th April at Cousldon community hall, and was a welcome follow-up to ‘Radio Days: The Golden Age of Wireless’, a TWC production from 2015.

The show comprises nine playlets written or adapted by members of Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, both humorous and poignant, inspired by the horrific times of the Second World War, but at the same time evoking the brilliant community spirit that existed during those dark years. The episodes are presented as if on the radio, from the glory days of the BBC, with news items interspersed.

In between the playlets, there are musical interludes from the 1940s, including such classics as ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, ‘La Vie En Rose’, and ‘Chattanooga Choo-Choo’, accompanied by the BBC Very Light Orchestra (Keith Lewis, guitar; Jeannie Lewis, guitar/percussion, and Jonathan North, piano).

Coulsdon community hall had been decorated to evoke the era, with the entrance to the tea room made into a sand-bagged entry to an air-raid shelter, wartime posters adorning the walls, the front of house team wearing clothes of the period and one even having an (unlit!) cigarette hanging from her lips!The set was designed to resemble a BBC studio of the time, with a recording booth, producers’ desk, institutional yellow and green walls, and even the iconic BBC elongated octagonal microphones.

Political scandal, pushy reporters and dodgy interviewees are not recent phenomena

The show opened with an audition for the vocal harmony group the Springtime Singers, with the producer Norman (Chris Argles) giving a spirited performance as he initially panicked about the majority of the group not arriving…but they did eventually, and performed an inspiring version of ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’, particularly apt given that it was Dame Vera Lynn’s 100th birthday this year. Then Sean Young’s spoof ‘Biggles Comes Up Trumps’ gave Captain ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth (Joe Wilson) a secret mission to recover information from behind enemy lines, but he must fly solo. Particularly amusing was Colonel Rackham (Mike Brown) with his frequent reminiscences of the Sudan…

Photo by Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, used with permission.

‘Death of a Detective’, adapted from a story by Tim Dedopulos by Chris Argles and Paul Ford, showed that political scandal, pushy reporters and dodgy interviewees are not recent phenomena! But whodunnit? And Rachel Handler’s ‘The Bomb Girls’ depicted the appalling conditions in the munitions factory, with manager Mr Garland (Barry Ring) being suitably bossy, and Evelyn, Connie, Violet and Lily sometimes fighting but also supporting each other when a life-changing event occurred.

Indianna Scorzello’s ‘The Lady on the Train’ was an intriguing (and intrigue-filled) two-part playlet, with Nora Wilson (Rachel Handler) and the mysterious woman (Hannah Montgomery) giving outstanding performances and the ticket collector (Mike Brown) going above and beyond.

Next, a terrifying, dictatorial matron (Dawn Ford) attempted to impose discipline on the ward in Whitechapel’s Lady of Grace Hospital (pre-NHS of course!) and Nurse Smith (Eloise Brown) struggled to cope with the pressures. I loved the performance of Luke Argles who brilliantly plays a delirious Corporal Humphries, repeatedly demanding his boot polish and having a morbid fear of losing his can of Spam.

In keeping with the immersive atmosphere, an air raid siren and appropriate announcement signalled the interval.

Very well paced with a lovely balance of humour and poignancy

Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman’, adapted by Lucy-Ann Martin, was a ghostly tale of a tunnel and a red light. Tim Young (the signalman) gave an inspiring performance and Paul Ford clearly narrated what is an intriguing and somewhat disturbing story.

The final episode (Joe Wilson’s ‘Harrison Harrison: The Case of the Jade Monkey’) was a mystery involving a suspicious death, via India and Harrods. All was not what it seemed. Atmospheric (and atmospheric) interruptions – no FM radio back then – were brilliantly interposed in various accents by Hannah Montgomery, Connor Nestor and Sean Young.

Before transmission closed for the day there was an uplifting musical medley, again accompanied by the BBC Very Light Orchestra – an inspiring close, as Churchill’s words are spoken: “Advance Britannia. Long live the cause of freedom. God save the king”.

The show was very well paced with the right balance of plays and music, humour and poignancy. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and would encourage anyone who hasn’t experienced Theatre Workshop Coulsdon to watch out for future shows.

Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson

I have been a Croydon resident for over 30 years, and have recently retired from a career in banking. Whilst appreciating many aspects of the regeneration of Croydon I do have a number of concerns about its effects. My main interests are rock music, walking, travel, and last but not least, good pubs and quality beer!

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