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BWW Review: THE WINSTON MACHINE, New Diorama Theatre

Ambitious new play that examines the iniquitous effect of nostalgia does not realise its bold ambition

BWW Review: THE WINSTON MACHINE, New Diorama Theatre

BWW Review: THE WINSTON MACHINE, New Diorama Theatre Commissioned by the theatre itself, Kandinsky trail The Winston Machine as 'an epic, intimate family saga' - a Rich Man, Poor Man de nos jours, if you will. Well, not at 80 minutes all-through and out for free pizzas in the bar it isn't, but there's plenty of ambition on show, if not quite the clarity of storytelling it requires.

We open on a young woman (Rachel-Leah Hosker, who sings well, but not often enough) who is having an affair with a young Battle of Britain pilot, the heady mix of youth and imminent death driving their passion (each flight is a matter of life and death after all). We then flip forward to the present day where the same actress plays the woman's granddaughter, trapped in a relationship with an entitled man and tempted by the return of an old school friend who is trying to make it as a musician. They're rehearsing for their village's annual World War II celebration fête in which some Vera Lynn standards will get an airing amongst the replica tanks and Spitfires.

Such a structure sets director, James Yeatman, significant problems not all of which are solved. With only the most cursory of costume changes on a bare stage, it's hard to keep track of when events are taking place and, especially, who the other cast members (Hamish McDougall and Nathaniel Christian) are playing. Obviously, the parallels between the different timeframes are a key theme of the play, but the points are lost if we're still working out who's who when we should be listening to them.

It's all done so fast that characters never get beyond the caricature: a father looking askance at a black man visiting his daughter, a man bullying his girlfriend, a woman dreaming of more than a lifetime of dead end jobs. Come the end, a Winston Churchill impersonator comes on to drive home the theme we got half an hour ago and the musician recounts the ever more modest futures that may lie ahead of him - a technique that would work well visually, but goes on far too long as a speech only.

Producing a new comedy in Covid times, satirising the Daily Express style fetishisation of Britain's past, making an impassioned plea that young people in particular, be allowed (even encouraged) to look forward, are bold, necessary things for theatre to do. But this 80 minutes feels like a work in progress - it needs more jokes, more songs, more actors, more spaces and more time to unravel the theatrical material it sets out. It is, to coin a metaphor from the previous war, too bogged down in the trenches of development to succeed fully at the moment.

The Winston Machine is at the New Diorama Theatre until 19 February

Photo Cesare De Giglio

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