THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN: Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon.
Lakeside Arts Centre: Tkts 0115 846 7777 www.lakesidearts.org.uk
Touring Details: New Perspectives Theatre Company, www.newperspectives.co.uk.
Runs: 1h 40m: no interval.
Review: Alan Geary: 9 March 2010.
For full tour details, see Mark Courtice’s review of this production at New Greenham Arts.
Lots of laughs, certainly, but it goes deeper – and higher – than that.
You can’t accuse New Perspectives Theatre Company of covering old ground or Daniel Buckroyd of lacking versatility. These Magnificent Men, about the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic by Alcock and Brown in 1919, is another radical departure for both company and director. It succeeds admirably.
Probably the central intention of both play and production is to generate laughs; it does precisely that – lots of laughs.
C P Hallam (Alcock) and Richard Earl (Brown) are fine casting. There’s a lot of the comic duo about them: Alcock, tall with plastered-down hair, is the straight man; Brown, short with curly dark hair is the clown. The former is often the pragmatist, the latter the idealist. They’re mutually competitive, of course: each interacts beautifully with the other. But additionally they both interact with some jokey sound and special effects.
It’s neat writing, with affectionate satire and delicate touches of anachronism.
But there’s a lot to savour in this play besides the humour. In an everyday sense it’s an absorbing story and interesting social history. And, arguably, when you’ve forgotten the laughs you’ll remember how touching it is. There’s the basic decency of all involved in the achievement, the non-bellicose patriotism and lack of cynicism, the modesty. It’s an antidote to the contemporary cults of fame for being famous and public (and synthetic) sentimentality. And you’re genuinely caught up in the danger and sheer terror of being fifty feet over the water in mid-Atlantic. There’s some very good mime.
It’s an ingenious set. Bits and pieces on-stage are utilised during proceedings to assemble the aeroplane used for the crossing, a modified Vickers Vimy bomber; and, for the schoolboy inside some of us, there’s a rattlingly good red model of the machine as well.
After the main story’s been told, Brown is agog to know what happened to each of them in later life and Alcock tells him; it’s very moving. It’s particularly about this point that the play examines the relationship between the ripping yarn approach and real life, and between history and truth.
During the break you can enjoy the programme, a mock-up of a 1919 newspaper.
This is rewarding entertainment.
Brown: Richard Earl.
Alcock: C P Hallam.
Director: Daniel Buckroyd.
Set Designer: Helen Fownes-Davies.
Lighting Designer: Mark Dymock.
Sound Designer: Tom Lishman.