THREE DAYS IN MAY
by Ben Brown.
Trafalgar Studios 14 Whitehall AW1A 2DY To 3 March 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7632.
Review: Carole Woddis 4 November.
Then and now in Whitehall.
Bill Kenwright, one of the shrewdest West End producers, has timed this premiere to perfection in launching Ben Brown’s wartime old warhorse of a play about Winston Churchill at Trafalgar Studios, a stone’s throw from the War Rooms, just before Remembrance Sunday. Add to that Warren Clarke – an actor with a huge TV following from the Dalziel and Pascoe series, playing Churchill at a critical moment in British history with Churchillian lines that would stir the flintiest heart, and it’s hard to see how it can fail.
Ben Brown’s two-hour drama concentrates on the three days in May 1940 following Dunkirk when suing for peace was definitely an option. Lord Halifax (played with suitable suavity by Jeremy Clyde, befitting a high Anglican aristo who also loved hunting) advocated it, backed by Neville Chamberlain. Clem Atlee and Arthur Greenwood, the two Labour partners in the Coalition government, were less happy about it.
Brown’s `history’ lesson in Alan Strachan’s overly-reverential production, nonetheless gives us an intriguing display of the kind of clever, childish manipulation Churchill indulged in to gain his own way.
Clarke, gravel voiced, makes a fine fist of impersonating the old ham as Churchill gradually plays one political player off against another, bursting into fury one moment, cajoling and in despair the next.
Fascinatingly too, Brown’s approach, based on historical records of the time and seen through the eyes of Churchill’s young personal secretary, Jock Colville, triggers some curiously contemporary parallels. Talk of coalitions, British independence and Europe sliding into turmoil sound remarkably topical.
Three Days in May emerges not so much as a predictable retelling of a well-known and pivotal moment when Britain stood alone and only one man’s obstinacy stood between ultimate victory and defeat, as a strangely disturbing warning about our present position in Europe. Inter alia, it begs the question of Britain’s role in Europe and what British patriotism means today.
The audience, however, rose as one to celebrate Churchill the national saviour. Long gone the more subversive spirit playwrights of the 1970s and ‘80s brought to his character. Which is interesting.
Jock Colville: James Alper.
Winston Churchill: Warren Clarke.
Neville Chamberlain: Robert Demeger.
Lord Halifax: Jeremy Clyde.
Clement Atlee: Michael Sheldon.
Arthur Greenwood: Dicken Ashworth.
Paul Reynaud: Timothy Kightley.
General Dill: Paul Ridley.
Director: Alan Strachan.
Costume Designer/Costume: Gary McCann.
Lighting/Video: Mark Howett.
Sound: Martin Hodgson.
Assistant director: Cecily Boys.
The World Premiere of Three Days in May was at Theatre Royal, Windsor 16 August 2011.