Think of England
Reviewed – 11th February 2018
“The soundscape of bombs rumbling in the background … allowed for a steady immersion into the world of the play”
Based on a true story by Worcester-based company, Anonymous Is A Woman, Think of England revolves around the role of sexuality in England during the Blitz. The company aim to focus upon telling the unheard stories of women through history, and after a rural tour the play now finds itself aptly in London taking place in one of The Vaults’ larger performance spaces.
The story follows two women, Bette and Vera, hired to host morale-boosting parties during the Second World War. The sound of the air-raid siren outside the theatre signals the beginning as the audience is ushered in to a dramatically lit space. You are warmly welcomed with sweets and song-sheets indicating the possibility of audience participation ahead. The soundscape of bombs rumbling in the background in combination with the wooden benches and selected wartime props allowed for a steady immersion into the world of the play. Bette and Vera begin to set up for the party when the atmosphere is interrupted by the arrival of three Canadian pilots each providing their own War archetype: the poster-boy who always ‘plays by the book’; the leery one who likes a drink; the innocent one who just joined in order to replace a recently deceased fellow soldier. The latter played by Stefan Menaul who gave an overwhelming warmness and charm to the role.
The story continues to explore sexual freedoms during the war, and how such a time of turmoil helped women feel increasingly more liberated, albeit whilst trying to keep up the morale during a difficult time of uncertainty and death. This was incredibly evident in the sound design of the play whereby dialogue and poignant moments were interrupted by a soundscape of bombs reminding us of the melancholy backdrop of the play.
I can imagine this play feeling even more immersive during the rural tour in village halls across the country, as you share the space with your local community it echoes closer towards the real setting of the piece and also means as an audience member you are more likely to participate. This was unfortunately lacking at times during the performance at The Vaults, as many audience members around me were, despite the best efforts of the performers, not interested in responding in order to heighten the levels of immersion for the audience as a whole.
Whilst the plot surrounded an interesting aspect of the female role during the war, at times the dialogue dragged its heels and towards the end depended heavily on a series of arguments that kept going back and forth. However, writer, Madeline Gould has found a lesser-known storyline relating to the women’s war effort and it is certainly a tale that needs to be told.
Reviewed by Claire Minnitt
Photography by Ali Wright
Think of England
Vaults Theatre until 11th February