Blue Elephant Theatre
Reviewed – 11 November 2018
“an original take on a little-known aspect of wartime women’s intrinsic importance”
Amidst the pomp and circumstance of the official ceremonies, Blue Elephant Theatre contributes an unusual, personal and decidedly yellow touch to Armistice Day with Fun in the Oven’s production of ‘Canary’. When, in 1916, the Government set up the Ministry of Munitions following a shortage of shells, they relied on unskilled workers to fill the factories. This meant that women from all walks of life experienced the war in a very different way from holding the fort or weeping and waiting for their loved ones; they worked together in dire and dangerous conditions, forming friendships and bonds with those they would never normally have met. As a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Canary Girls, Katie Tranter, Robyn Hambrook and Alys North become Agnes, Anne and Betty.
After setting the scene with film footage of cheery enlisting propaganda we meet the three complementary characters. Agnes is the work supervisor, commanding and outwardly confident: officer’s wife, Anne, escapes from her grand house to volunteer at weekends: young Betty, naïve and illiterate, is the star of the factory’s football team. We are taken along the conveyor belt of bomb-making, into the canteen and down into the air-raid shelter, accompanied by effectively dramatic lighting (Scott Ferguson) and interesting, integrated sound (Roma Yagnik). The show is packed with information and insights. Concentrating on the relationships built, we are drawn into their private world of sharing and supporting hopes, fears, sadness and joy. We learn about their lives from tea-break chats and air-raid confinement – the dangers of TNT, the long working hours, the disgracefully low wages. They discover a freedom to talk about men and physical and emotional intimacy, to smoke and drink. And we also see a fundamental change in attitude when their eyes are opened to their own value and place in society.
Andrea Jiménez’s direction is innovative and fun, making creative use of three tea crates as the only props. But the interpretation is patchy. The actors convey the diversity of class and the sense of unity between them and there are some striking moments like the cordite hallucination sequence and Alys North’s ‘man talk’ but it sometimes suffers from a slightly laboured pace. However, even though the show needs some fine tuning to tighten up this lack of slickness, ‘Canary’ is an original take on a little-known aspect of wartime women’s intrinsic importance, and the humorous dialogue, well-choreographed movement and rousing singing make for enjoyable and enlightening entertainment.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Chris Bishop
Blue Elephant Theatre
Previously reviewed at this venue: