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BWW Review: BLITZ!, Union Theatre

BWW Review: BLITZ!, Union Theatre

BWW Review: BLITZ!, Union TheatreRevival Blitz! forms part of Phil Wilmott's Essential Classics season, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of VE Day. A Lionel Bart musical set in the heart of London's East End, Blitz! (also directed by Wilmott) tells the story of two neighbouring families - the Blitzsteins and the Lockes - against the backdrop of World War II.

Produced by Sasha Regan and led by the wonderful Jessica Martin, an energetic cast of 19 deliver the story with enthusiasm and vigour. One of Lionel Bart's lesser-known works, Blitz! is a charming period musical focused on family, culture and community.

Martin plays Mrs Blitzstein, a real down-to-earth (if a little overbearing) Jewish Cockney mother, whose main concern is ensuring good marriages and prosperous futures for her three children, in spite of the war and the hardships that come with it. Martin's role is huge and she tackles it with ease, delivering a solid and authentic performance.

The plot (book by Joan Maitland) is a little weak. Mrs. Blitzstein's daughter Carol (Caitlin Anderson) is in love with young Georgie Locke (Connor Carson), much to her mother's chagrin. Throughout the course of the show, the young lovers and their families are faced with a plethora of obstacles prevalent in wartime London. The threat of separation, destruction and death is ever present, but unfortunately the characters are so simplistic that this doesn't carry as much emotional weight as one would hope.

While the material itself comes across as a little uneven in terms of quality and fluidity, there's still much to love. While I felt more could have been done in terms of direction to support the weaker plot points and songs, the ensemble numbers really do pack a punch. The choreography by Daniel Maguire feels very appropriate and the cast deliver it with gusto. It's the moments when the cast simply sing together ("The Day After Tomorrow") that prove the most touching and embody the true spirit of the piece.

At the time of its premiere in 1962, Blitz! was the most expensive West End production ever staged. With this in mind, it's an interesting choice for the Union. Producing a show such as this one in a small space has its challenges - and unfortunately this production didn't quite rise to them.

The band, led by musical director Rosa Lennox, are much too loud given the cast don't use microphones. Some staging choices and the location of the musicians (at the back of the stage behind the set) only exacerbate the problem, making it impossible to hear the cast at times. In addition, there are many scenes where the general background chatter from the supporting characters is much too loud and distracts from the central focus of the scene, sometimes drowning out the actual dialogue completely.

While some thought has been given to the set design (Reuben Speed), the results are mixed. In an intimate venue such as this one, the devil is in the detail, and I couldn't help but be distracted by costume inconsistencies, too. It may seem pedantic, but in a period piece, modern shoes and hairstyles really do distract from an otherwise authentic impression.

Many of the cast are Jewish, and I'm told that much consideration was given to how the material was delivered with cultural representation and accuracy in mind. It seems an odd choice, then, to have part of Carol played by an actor who does not appear to be Jewish whatsoever - in looks or presentation. Caitlin Anderson is a fine performer with an impressive voice, but might there have been more appropriate choices for the role in that sense?

Special mention must be given to the ensemble, whose energy and passion drives the piece. Detailed performances from cast members such as James Georgiou (Mr Finklestein), Danniella Schindler (Mrs Ficklestein) and Charlotte Bradley (Peg) really catch the eye. James Horne (who has toured with a previous Bill Kenwright production of the same show), gives a clear and concise performance as Grandad Locke, while Beaux Harris' Elsie is a force to be reckoned with. A unique and vibrant performer, she's the perfect choice for a show of this nature.

Flaws aside, this nostalgic and humble piece, with many enjoyable moments, is one that many will appreciate - especially those who are partial to shows set in this particular era.

Blitz! at the Union Theatre until 7 March

Photo credit: Mark Senior

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From This Author Laura Fuller