What’s the Story?
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
Reviewed – 21st February 2018
“The four actors on stage project well and play their roles with obvious enjoyment and confidence”
The Festival of New London Irish Writing 2018 is showcasing a series of plays, songs and readings across various venues during February and March. One play that has already attracted media interest is from the Festival’s category ‘Against All Odds’. What’s the Story? pays tribute to two young Irish nurses who heroically saved the lives of seventeen of their patients when the Lewisham hospital ward where they worked was bombed by German aircraft during the Second World War.
Whilst their act of bravery and subsequent award of the George Medal was reported in the Daily Mirror in 1941, little else was known about Mary Fleming and Aileen Turner, so despite much research by writer Maureen Alcorn much of the play we see is ‘imagined’.
The audience is greeted by a very basic set. Over the following ninety minutes we not only learn more about the two nurses, but also about what it was like to live in wartime London and the attitudes of people living on the edge with the ever present threat of air raids. We are also reminded, through two of the male characters, about some of the horrible diseases that were prevalent in England at the time – TB and polio in particular.
The play honours the bravery of the many Irish women who chose to leave a country that had adopted a policy of neutrality, to come to England. For women, nursing was particularly attractive as it offered free training in the hospitals and wages were more generous than in Ireland. However London was a fairly dangerous place where looting and muggings were rife as thieves took advantage of the blackout and sparse police presence.
We meet Aileen (Lauren Cardiff), a young woman who on a cigarette break gets to know Bert (Alex Stevens) a trainee reporter struck down with polio. Bert has lost his brother in the battlefields of France and feels a failure that he was turned down when he tried to join up to serve his country. He of course eventually falls in love with Aileen and is the man responsible for writing the story of the women’s bravery. Aileen’s colleague, Mary (Jessica Kearney) crosses the professional line when she falls in love with TB sufferer Martin (Louis Rayneau). There follows some sub plots which introduce the characters of the Military Officer, the Policeman and the Doctor all also played by Rayneau.
The four actors on stage project well and play their roles with obvious enjoyment and confidence though Louis Rayneau does seem to struggle at times with some of the characters he portrays.
Alcorn should be congratulated for not only bringing to a greater audience the selfless acts of bravery by Fleming and Turner, but for creating a thought-provoking play with little factual material to work on. Her attendance for the performance and taking on a post show question time demonstrated her passion and commitment to bring this important story to life. Overall an enjoyable production highlighting the courage of those two nurses and giving an insight to life in those grim wartime conditions.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
What’s the Story?
Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 3rd March
Part of Against The Odds:
Festival Of New ‘London Irish’ Plays