Tag Archives: Pleasance Theatre

Wireless Operator

★★★★

Pleasance Theatre

Wireless Operator

Wireless Operator

Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 14th November 2019

★★★★

 

“The sadness and the poignancy are shattering, and the vocal shrapnel pierces you with countless questions”

 

Next year, 2020, will mark the 75th anniversary of the ending of WW2. It will be a time of reflection and remembrance. A commemoration currently in the foreground of our minds days after this year’s Remembrance Sunday. But of the military services (and civilians) who are remembered each year, it is only recently that the members of Bomber Command have been recognised. In the immediate aftermath of the second world war, Churchill made no reference to them when praising all those who had contributed to victory, and for a long time the muddied waters of history washed over their sacrifice. While films and stories have glamorised the harsh reality of serving as an airman in Bomber Command, politicians have been keen to distance themselves from the unresolved and ambiguous morality of the bombing raids.

It is this double-barrelled conflict that is beautifully touched upon in Bob Baldwin and Max Kinning’s play, “Wireless Operator”. On the surface it is a thrilling wartime nail-biter, but it leaves a vapour trail that haunts, as it dissipates its poignancy into the night. Based on Baldwin’s own father’s experiences the play focuses on the eponymous wireless operator; a pacifist plucked from everyday life and turned into a killer. His tour of duty is thirty missions, and this is his last one. On average an airman would only survive five. As the plane heads across the channel towards Germany the young operator recalls his life back at home, his fiancée, his imminent fatherhood and recent childhood, the Tommy Dorsey music that played on his gramophone, football games in the Mile End streets. A warm jet stream of nostalgia, fiercely punctured by the cold realisation that he’s about to obliterate many, many lives just like his own friends and family.

Thomas Dennis portrays the sheer complexity of emotions with brilliant accuracy, whilst capturing the white-knuckle fear and ear-splitting danger of the flight, tempered by the camaraderie of the rest of his crew. Dennis is alone onstage, perched in designer Kit Line’s ingenious aircraft – a contraption lifted from a Heath Robinson drawing – that moves in rhythm to Phil Maguire’s blistering, flak-filled soundtrack. Merged into the soundscape is the unseen supporting cast who, through voiceover, reinforces the nightmare hidden beneath the light-hearted banter and camaraderie that keeps them going throughout the mission. But essentially this is a powerful solo performance; the sweat on Dennis’ brow is not just from the arc lights.

Played out almost in real time this is a breathless sixty minutes of theatre, during which the aircraft’s engines occasionally cut out and, with just the gliding sound of the wind, moments of reflection are given space. The sadness and the poignancy are shattering, and the vocal shrapnel pierces you with countless questions. Before the flight the wireless operator kisses a photograph of Rita Hayworth for luck. During the flight he kisses the bible while looking up to the heavens and asking, “Whose side are you on anyway?” That kind of says it all.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


Wireless Operator

Pleasance Theatre until 16th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Murder On The Dance Floor | ★★★ | October 2019
The Accident Did Not Take Place | ★★ | October 2019
The Fetch Wilson | ★★★★ | October 2019
The Hypnotist | ★★½ | October 2019
The Perfect Companion | ★★★★ | October 2019
The Unseen Hour | ★★★★ | October 2019
Endless Second | ★★★ | November 2019
Heroin(e) For Breakfast | ★★★★★ | November 2019
Land Of My Fathers And Mothers And Some Other People | ★★★★ | November 2019
Madame Ovary | ★★★★★ | November 2019

 

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Madame Ovary

Madame Ovary

★★★★★

Pleasance Theatre

Madame Ovary

Madame Ovary

Pleasance Theatre

Reviewed – 8th November 2019

★★★★★

 

“Alone on stage for sixty minutes, Hesmondhalgh holds the attention effortlessly”

 

How do you cope with a cancer diagnosis when you are only twenty-three and on the brink of a new life full of possibilities? If you are Rosa Hesmondhalgh, you write a frank, yet funny blog about your experiences, and then turn that material into an inspirational one woman show that plays to packed houses at both the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and then in London at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

It’s 2018, and Rosa has just graduated from drama school. She’s made resolutions about taking better care of her body, and “making some really good art.” She’s got a promising sounding date on Tinder, and it goes really well. But something—isn’t quite right. Dismissing the symptoms as just gas, Rosa waits to go to the A and E until she can ignore them no longer. What follows is the stuff of nightmares, but in Madame Ovary, Rosa guides us through an unforgettable experience of love, loss—and epiphany.

Alone on stage for sixty minutes, Hesmondhalgh holds the attention effortlessly, but it’s not just because of her uncompromising look at a disease that is well known for forcing an awareness of one’s own mortality. She meets the audience head on dressed in yoga clothes, using her body as well as her words to tell her story. It’s an ongoing joke that her increasing difficulty in doing the yoga poses that are supposed to make her healthier are some of the things that alert her to the inexplicable changes going on in her body. Her humour helps lighten the seriousness of the situation, but also preps us for the education that is about to commence.

It’s truly remarkable how much medical information this show delivers while focusing on the more relatable aspects—meeting the people, and their supporters, for whom the struggle to survive is all too real. Hesmondhalgh’s approach is to focus on the ‘F’ words—family, friends, and the future—in a way that doesn’t negate the pain or the brutality of the treatments that rob her of her hair and more significantly, her ovaries. In her “new normal” where connections may be brief, she, and we, discover that they are nevertheless important and well worth the effort. It is this awareness of paradox in the writing that makes Madame Ovary such a satisfying evening in the theatre, despite the difficulty of the material. When at the end of the show, the actress declares “I’m not better, but things are better” she succeeds in helping us to understand both the uncertainty and the faith in that statement. It’s an impressive achievement.

Madame Ovary is well worth your time if you can get to see it, so keep an eye open for opportunities. It’s a show that should be revived often—as long as battles against cancer are still there to be fought, and lessons to be learnt on how to take on this ancient enemy—and win.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

 


Madame Ovary

Pleasance Theatre until 10th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Go To Hell! | ★★★★ | October 2019
Murder On The Dance Floor | ★★★ | October 2019
The Accident Did Not Take Place | ★★ | October 2019
The Fetch Wilson | ★★★★ | October 2019
The Hypnotist | ★★½ | October 2019
The Perfect Companion | ★★★★ | October 2019
The Unseen Hour | ★★★★ | October 2019
Heroin(e) For Breakfast | ★★★★★ | November 2019
Endless Second | ★★★ | November 2019
Land Of My Fathers And Mothers And Some Other People | ★★★★ | November 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews