Review: This War! (Oakwood School)

By - Monday 10th March, 2014

Shaniqua Benjamin fights flooding and road closures to immerse herself in a production based on World War II

Ewen Rose, Chris Rose, Dan Jewell, Charlotte Whiting, Lara Askew and Oisin Jewell. Photo by SRosePix Photography and used with permission.

“Britain is at war with Germany” were the dreaded words that fell on Britain’s ears in 1939, catapulting them into World War II. This set the foundation for Four58’s production, This War!, which was performed by St Gertrude’s Theatre Company.

Despite flooding and closed roads in Purley, all seats were filled in Oakwood School for the second showing of This War! on the Thursday evening during February half term. The high level of commitment could be seen immediately. The props department had created bunting that hung from the corridor walls and posters depicting the war era were put up in the ‘canteen’, which sold light refreshments.

As an amateur who has written, directed and produced a number of plays, it is always a pleasure for me to watch productions by individuals on the other side of the stage; especially when they are also amateurs. St Gertrude’s is an amateur theatre company with actors who really had to step up their game, as they deviated away from their previous pantomime productions. The directors, Rebecca de Paula Hanika and Liz Williams, had initially wanted to do a wartime review, but it was suggested that there be a link between the skits and song so that it would flow better.

They wanted the play to show the realities and hardships of war but also create a dream world

The idea for This War! was born and after drafting a series of events alongside a thorough timeline, James de Paula Hanika connected the pieces to write a script that followed the Goode family and those around them through the war years.  They wanted the play to show the realities and hardships of war, but also create a dream world of some sorts for individual characters as their way of escape from a trying time.

It was interesting to see the effect of war on each family member and those in their circles. The parents of the Goode family, Jack and Evelyn, had already survived World War I, but Evelyn was struggling to come to terms with another war. Their eldest, Laura, had to face the trauma of her fiancée, Malcolm, being reported as missing after going into battle. The middle daughter, Maggie, and her friends had an abundance of fun attending the various parties and mingling with the American soldiers.

However, one of the most effective scenes was the youngest child, Danny, standing amongst a group of children who had been evacuated, as they recited letters to their parents. It was great to hear the tales of their new lives in the country, broken up with their requests for money and treats.

I was fortunate enough to be seated next to them, making me feel closer to the action

The script was not the only thing created especially for St Gertrude’s. They also filmed video footage that was implemented into the production, which interacted with the stage play and enhanced particular scenes. This War! opened and closed with a snippet of a couple dancing in a classic film, which I genuinely thought came from a real war time film. When Beryl Flynn – a friend of the Goode family – is transported to her dream world, she walks ‘into the film screen’ and is then shown dancing with the male lead, which was a lot of fun to watch. However, I found their footage of a battlefield scene incredibly moving, as we saw a young soldier killed in the line of duty and then watched Malcolm fail to hoist him up, as his body just fell limply to the ground while his eyes stared up at us.

Interaction was a key element of This War! right from the get-go – Laura and Malcolm sat in the audience to watch the film scene at the beginning of the play, giving the illusion of a real cinema date. I was fortunate enough to be seated next to them, making me feel closer to the action. Although this was a portrayal of life during one of the biggest nightmares in history, there was a good dose of humour to lighten the mood. Malcolm asking Jack for his permission to marry Laura is very funny and any scene with Mairead Jewell as Beryl Flynn is amusing. Ewen Rose and John-Paul MacNamara also make a good double act, as Jack Goode and Patrick Flynn respectively; one of my favourite moments was when they performed a drunken song and dance, which made everyone laugh.

The hair and makeup was beautifully done, whilst a lot of the props and costumes were actually from the time period of World War II

Some lovely singing voices were among the cast, which brought alive the songs that were interspersed with the scenes.  Despite a few pitching issues, each song had a good sound and the choices were spot on. A musical piece that really struck me was Sorrel de Paula Hanika’s beautiful solo rendition of I’ll Be Seeing You. Her soft voice and perfect tone provided the background for an emotional scene between Laura and Malcolm. It was a truly breath-taking moment. The icing on the cake for this show was the amazing hair and makeup, costumes and props. The hair and makeup was beautifully done, whilst a lot of the props and costumes were actually from the time period of World War II, which formed a great reflection of the era.

St Gertrude’s did themselves proud and I thoroughly enjoyed watching their production. There was some brilliant talent on show, especially from the likes of Sorrel de Paula Hanika and Lara Askew, who are stars in the making. My only issue was that I found the end slightly ambiguous and I would have preferred a little more clarity. Nevertheless, the hard work that went into all areas of this production paid off, because it ran smoothly from start to finish and the mood of the war time era was definitely captured. A viewer I spoke to agreed saying, “it’s very well produced. They’ve caught the pace of the times”.

I am looking forward to news of St Gertrude’s next production and I am sure that they will only get better. For further news and information, take a look at the St Gertrude’s Theatre Company website.

Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua is a writer and poet, born and raised in Thornton Heath, which she is proud to call her home. She has used her passion for making a difference to found a platform, Young People Insight, which empowers the voices of young people and encourages community engagement. When she’s not writing or trying to cause change, she loves reading, scrapbooking, watching films and listening to music.

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