Cockpit. The Lyceum’s latest smash.


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Photo credit:  Production photo by Mihaela Bodlovic

In 1948 the young Bridget Boland (I know nothing of her) wrote this site specific play.  And it IS site specific even though it is presented in the Lyceum Theatre because she sets her play, about a holding centre for displaced persons in the aftermath of WWII, in 1948, in a theatre.

Actual genius.

This gives her the opportunity to introduce some great theatrical gags; most memorably the line spat out in complete contempt by the theatre’s stage manager for Front of House personnel.  A laugh out loud moment.  One of several.  Although this is no comedy.

The concept is that in this Displaced Persons’ (DP) ‘camp’, a sort of Calais ‘Jungle’ of 1948, in an unnamed German city, two British military personnel (the latter day peacekeeping force) are trying to organise the transport of 1,000 DP’s to their homelands.

It’s a Tower of Babel with many languages spoken and, more importantly, many short and long term differences of opinion and prejudices.  Of course, the Jews fare worst of all because the Jews were no less persecuted by the Nazis than many other nations and creeds.  That comes across strongly.

But Latvians and Lithuanians, Yugoslavs (Bosnians, Croatians, Serbian et al), Poles and Russians, French sympathisers and resistance all harbour deep grudges and these constantly flare up in an electrifying first act until a moment of humanity transforms the situation. It would be a spoiler to reveal this so you’ll have to see the show to find out how politics can be transcended by human nature.

It’s an absolute cauldron of infighting that shows partly how ridiculous political belief and dogma is (religion gets a right kicking too) but also how complex it is.  That scene from Life of Brian about the Judean Liberation Front is a great touchpoint, although it is treated far more seriously here.

The cast is drawn from a number of European nationalities which could have led to a dreadful ‘Allo Allo’ mood overall.  But how director Wils Wilson overcomes this is one of the many directorial sleights of hand that really impressed this audience member and means we have a truly international feel, but an all English script.  I have to say Wils Wilson has a masterful touch throughout.

It opens with a full ensemble Ukranian folk song that is brilliantly performed (and composed by the inimitable Aly Macrae – you may recall him from the The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart where he is a lead character) before resolving into the show itself.  I’d have liked to have seen even more musical pieces as they are all highlights. None more so than a few moments of operatic spinetinglingness that draws the breath away (I’ll not spoil it for you by describing what, where or when, but I guarantee you will be spellbound).

An actual real life showstopper.

It’s sort of Brechtian in places I suppose.  And resonates strongly with Caucasian Chalk Circle.  If you liked the Lyceums CCC you will like this.

Universally the ensemble acting is strong – really it’s as impressive a cast as I’ve ever seen at the Lyceum – but Peter Hannah as the fresh-faced and easily overwhelmed ‘Man in Charge’, Captain Ridley, is outstanding and is ably abetted by his more experienced and world weary underling; Deka Walmsley as Sergeant Barnes.

The design is a considerable feat and splurges out into stairwells, bars and the foyer, further enhancing the site-specificnesss of the production. The sound design and musical underscoring combine to create a sense of place, an air of menace and frankly an utter joy when it erupts into full blown musical scoring.

But, really, what most enraptured me was the script.  How anyone could conjure up such a politically accurate and insightful overview of the aftermath of WWII at a time when surely obfuscation, fake news and propaganda must have been rife amazes me.  What’s even more remarkable is that its relevance today (yes I know that’s such a weary phrase) is simply dizzying.

“The trouble with the British is they just don’t understand Europe.”  I kid you not.  Bridget Boland wrote those words in 1948. (I probably paraphrased.)

I rest my case m’lud.