WHAT THE WOMEN DID
Luck of War by Gwen John, Handmaidens of Death by Herbert Tremaine The Old Lady Shows Her Medals by J M Barrie.
Southwark Playhouse (The Large) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 15 February 2014.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 January.
Intriguing trio of strange meetings brought about by war.
What the women did in two of these plays from 1914-1918 relates to men in uniform. In Gwen John’s drama, Ann Hemingway, believing her husband dead. has taken up with sensitive, older Amos, who’s celebrating 8 years’ sobriety when the ‘dead’ man returns, one of the (just) walking wounded.
He moves quickly through anger and inability to acknowledge children he’s not seen for years, to acceptance of Amos’s good intentions. But as the passive Amos steps backward, it’s clear the Hemingway saga has further to run.
In J M Barrie’s typically whimsical, good-humoured play, elderly Mrs Dowey has a deficiency of men, never having married. She feels excluded by war so writes letters to a fictional soldier son. A soldier bearing the son’s name arrives on leave. For five days her motherly care gradually wears-down his resistance, with good baking and a comfortable bed. But it’s not mere material comforts Private Dowey appreciates; it’s the happiness of a person who awakens affection in him.
It’s unclear whether Handmaidens of Death, by “Herbert Tremaine” – actually Maude Deuchar – is being revived or premiered. No record of contemporary performances exist, and it is the boldest of these pieces, both in its style and sympathetic introduction of the enemy on stage.
A first, daytime scene shows five young women munitions workers at lunchtime outside Mrs Herring’s café, with its advert for Tea and Lemonade. There are class tensions between pedestrian working-girls and bicycling bourgeoisie and some racial tension with the young Irish woman bringing eggs to Mrs Herring.
So far, so OK. But a subsequent night-time brings a stranger meeting between the young women and ghostly soldiers indicated only by cigarette tips till a final shock brings home the reality behind confident jingoism.
It stands-out among revivals which are generally more interesting for expressing various voices of the time than for individual force or originality. Tricia Thorns’ production uses scenic elements to elide the plays, reminding they come from the same wartime experience. Ages and regional identity stretch the company, but Susan Wooldridge’s Mrs Dowey achieves true warmth as she clings to her non-son.
Luck of War
Amos Crispin: Matthew Cottle.
Ann Hemingway: Victoria Gee.
Maud Hemingway: Lucy Shaw/Beatrix Taylor.
Neighbour: Fiona Sheehan.
George Hemingway: Simon Darwen.
Victor Hemingway: Jack Swift/George Taylor.
Violet Tierney: Fiona Sheehan.
Jane Herring: Polly Eachus.
Gertrude Sutch: Victoria Gee.
Blanche Dryver: Mia Austen.
Millie Estridge: Alix Dunmore.
Clara Russell: Emily Bowker.
Mrs Herring: Susan Wooldridge.
Soldiers: Matthew Cottle, Simon Darwen, Joseph Miller, Alex Stuart, Andrew Watkins.
The Old Lady Shows Her Medals
Mrs Dowey: Susan Wooldridge.
Mrs Mickleham: Mia Austen.
Mrs Haggerty: Alix Dumnore.
Mrs Tully: Emily Bowker.
Rev Wilkinson: Matthew Cottle.
Private Dowey: Simon Darwen.
Director: Tricia Thorns.
Designer: Alex Marker.
Lighting: Duncan Coombe.
Sound: Dominic Bilkey.
Costume: Emily Stuart.