BWW Reviews: PROPAGANDA SWING, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, September 16 2014
Propaganda Swing is a co-production between the Belgrade Theatre and Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and is written by Peter Arnott. The writing is based upon a true story at the commencement of World War II in Berlin. Billy Constant, an American CBS journalist, narrates the proceedings and is heavily revolved around his love for German jazz singer, Lala Anderson. Lala is part of a jazz band whom are forced to conform to music approved by Hitler against their will.
The show is set in a radio station with a live swing band onstage throughout. Aside from a constant pianist, double bass player and percussionist; the actors form the remainder of the musicians. Libby Watson's set is aesthetically pleasing and fills the stage nicely. Aside from smaller set pieces which occasionally change the scene; the radio station is predominantly the sole location for the action. Unfortunately Mike Robertson's lighting is not of such a high standard. Some of this may be due to actors not finding their lights or potentially it could have been due to the cueing of the lighting changes but some of the transitions seemed incredibly clunky.
On the whole, the mixing levels are very good along with the quality and authenticity of the sound. The only time I struggled was at the start of the show when the instrumental was masking the dialogue but this soon seemed to level out. The musicality of the performers is incredible and this is the productions biggest success - I would happily purchase a recording of the songs performed.
The sheer level of research that Arnott has had to do to create such a play is astounding. The strength of the writing is reflected in the delivery. Hamish Glen's direction is also well thought out and matches the vision.
Richard Conlon is excellent as Constant and provides a very charismatic lead. He is well matched by Miranda Wilford who is simply divine as Lala Anderson. Her singing voice is like butter and her acting is equally as strong. Chris Andrew Mellon playing Otto deserves a special mention for his comedic acumen, even if a lot of his scripted dialogue could be construed as offensive and close to the core. Also Tomm Coles' musicianship is stunning and he gives a memorable performance.
There are elements of the production that could be improved but as a whole, Propaganda Swing is an exceptionally good piece of writing which I hope has a life following its run at the Belgrade. Vastly political in its nature yet heartfelt in places; the show has a great balance.
Propaganda Swing plays at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 27 September 2014.