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Little Wars

Little Wars

★★★★

Online

Little Wars

Little Wars

Online via www.littlewars.co.uk

Reviewed – 2nd November 2020

★★★★

 

“The formidable characters displayed are certainly matched by the starry cast”

 

The dinner party has always offered food for thought for playwrights and, over the years, many fine examples have been dished up in our theatres. Neil Simon’s ‘The Dinner Party’ (obviously), Moira Buffini’s ‘Dinner’, David Eldridge’s ‘Festen’, Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’ and, of course, Alan Ayckbourn whose ‘Absurd Person Singular’ and ‘The Norman Conquests’ stand out. There is no place like the dinner table for drama, grudges, arguments, feuds and even a little crazy affection to surface.

Steven Carl McCasland has taken this formula and garnished it with a generous blend of fact and fiction. And plenty of friction. “Little Wars” brings together some of the most extraordinary and noted women in modern literature. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are the hosts entertaining none other than Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Agatha Christie. They are in France, tensions are high, the booze is flowing, and war is coming. Together they drink, and face a demon or two. Everyone has a confession and a secret and as the evening wears on their hard exteriors wear down.

The play is split into two halves. Initially the bickering and sharp-witted banter dominates and the personalities clash with subtle, though bitchy, humour. The presence of the only non-writer guest shifts the conversation into an impassioned discussion of the plight of Jews in the looming shadow of World War II. There is a real depth to the dialogue which also draws in the German, Jewish housemaid whose backstory certainly throws gas on the fire.

The formidable characters displayed are certainly matched by the starry cast. Linda Bassett dominates as Gertrude Stein with a swaggering petulance that eventually cracks to reveal a softer centre. Catherine Russell gives a richness to her lover, Alice Toklas; teasing her out from under the shadow of the presiding Stein. Juliet Stevenson bursts in with prickly invective which you both delight in and are repulsed by. Stevenson’s masterful performance renders the unattractive appealing and her eventual moral sea change quite moving. Debbie Chazen’s gin-soaked Dorothy Parker is forever teetering on the edge while, in contrast, Sophie Thompson’s Agatha Christie rounds everyone together with her outside eye, like one of Christie’s own detectives, probing and trying to understand. But the unsung heroines of the piece are the two characters who exist on the edges of this literary ‘salon’. Natasha Karp’s Bernadette, the housemaid, has the most harrowing story to tell. And it is fundamentally her story we are being told. Hers, and the plight of countless other Jews during the Nazi invasion of France. Crucial to the story too is Sarah Solemani’s Muriel Gardiner who is not afraid to challenge the women’s self-belief and prejudices, and who is just as fearless in the face of the Occupation.

The themes addressed in “Little Wars” are compelling. It possibly helps to have some background knowledge of the real-life personalities portrayed, but McCasland’s skill, meticulous research and flamboyant imagination leave you enthralled throughout. Almost. By necessity this production is a rehearsed reading and the limitations of Zoom, despite Hannah Chissick’s dynamic direction, are sometimes all too noticeable. The lack of reaction and interaction inherent in the format emphasises the need and the longing for theatre to return to its true home.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by John Brannoch

 

Little Wars

Online via www.littlewars.co.uk until 8th November

 

Recently reviewed by Jonathan:
The Understudy | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
Godspell Online in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | August 2020
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Maltings | August 2020
St Anne Comes Home | ★★★★ | St Paul’s Church Covent Garden | August 2020
A Hero Of Our Time | ★★★★ | Stone Nest | September 2020
Buyer and Cellar | ★★★★ | Above the Stag | October 2020
The Great Gatsby | ★★★★★ | Immersive LDN | October 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | October 2020
The Off Key | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | October 2020
What a Carve Up! | ★★★★★ | Online | October 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Rose

Rose

★★

Online

Rose

Rose

Online via hopemilltheatre.co.uk

Reviewed – 9th September 2020

★★

 

“There are glimpses of the grandeur of the journey”

 

Solo shows are hard. If there’s one thing that’s become more and more evident with every one-person play I see, it’s that. Sure, they can be easier to produce, but it seems trickier to capture the elements that make theatre crackle and pop. With only one actor, the energy between characters can be lost. With only one central character, often recounting the past, the script can lack a sense of momentum. And with only one point of view being presented, the overall production can feel thematically flat. Unfortunately, Rose falls victim to all of these trappings.

Written by Martin Sherman, Rose sees the titular character (portrayed by Maureen Lipman) relay her odyssey to the audience through the rise of the Third Reich to post-war America. As a Jewish woman, her relationship to her faith is frequently forced to be reckoned with, from the Russian village she grew up in through to the bustle of Miami. The detail into which Rose goes reveals a number of nuances into the ways in which Jewish culture and communities shifted over time and places, and provides a level of insight that isn’t often found on this scale. However, there is a lot of detail. Running at two hours, Rose sometimes feels like someone reading their Wikipedia page at you, as plot threads and tangents spring up all over the place and never feel like they’re tying together meaningfully, or that they’re contributing a great deal to the overall narrative.

Lipman gives a strong performance as Rose, albeit one that she seemed underprepared for, and is under-directed by Scott Le Crass. Certain sections meander, and the distances between the highs and lows feels too small at times, but there are some moments when Lipman rises above the confines of the format. There are a couple of scenes towards the end of the first act – one set on a boat, the other on a train – which are electrifying as the danger of the past is made to feel present in the retelling, and the urgency of the choices that had to be made land emotionally with the audience.

It’s all the more impressive that these moments connect as well as they do considering Lipman has no live audience to speak to. I expect there’s a reason we don’t see one-person films, and it’s because actors tell stories best when they have someone actively responding, whether that be an audience or fellow actors. Streamed from the Hope Mill Theatre, Rose has no-one in the room to engage with, and it suffers for it.

With antisemitism on the rise, Rose could be utterly vital. There are glimpses of the grandeur of the journey and the intimacy of the telling merging into something poignant and prescient, but the format of the play and this production feel ultimately unsuited to each other, instead serving only to highlight their shortcomings.

 

Reviewed by Ethan Doyle

Photography by Channel Eighty8

 

Rose

Online via hopemilltheatre.co.uk until 12th September

 

Previously reviewed by Ryan:
I Wanna be Yours | ★★★ | Bush Theatre | December 2019
Falling in Love Again | ★★ | King’s Head Theatre | January 2020
Four Play | ★★★ | Above The Stag | January 2020
The Guild | ★★★½ | The Vaults | January 2020
Far Away | ★★½ | Donmar Warehouse | February 2020
Republic | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Ryan Lane Will Be There Now In A Minute | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Big | | Network Theatre | March 2020
Stages | ★★★½ | Network Theatre | March 2020
Songs For A New World | ★★★ | Online | July 2020

 

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