BWW Review: THINK OF ENGLAND, The Vaults
Bette (Leila Sykes) and Vera (Madeleine Gould) travel the country in an official capacity hosting tea dances to try to improve the morale of the troops in 1942 England.
As their real purpose is discovered, three young men from the Royal Canadian Air Force threaten to blow up the women's organisation. Written by Gould and directed by Tilly Branson, Think of England finds the perfect performing space in The Cavern at The Vaults.
With its location naturally looking like a bomb shelter and the noises from Waterloo Station booming above, it's an intriguing piece to experience even though, among many issues, it overruns without reason. Branson uses the traverse stage very well, moving the actors uniformly around the ample area.
The audience become part of the action as they help to set the dance up, shuffling the card decks and untying the bunting while Sykes and Gould use luxury objects and foods they've found as raffle prizes. The preparations are interrupted by Lt. Bill Dunne (Matthew Biddulph), Lt. Tom Gagnon (Pip Brignall), and Cpl. Frank Lamb (Stefan Menaul).
They share stories about their lives, about what they were doing before the war, and how hard the war is, dancing and teasing each other all the while. The characters are women and men of their time, the former bat their eyes and act coquettish when they're not pretending to be tough, the latter would do anything to assert ownership on the others.
Dunne, Biddulph, and Brignall all do a good job with their stereotypical and predictable roles, backed up by Sykes and Gould, who are far more interesting but have a tendency to overdo their lines at times. Bette's mild and whiney nature gets tiring by the first half, and Sykes can only barely recover when she finally stands up for herself.
Gould's toughness and penchant for lasciviousness are an intriguing plot point, but become excessive in their execution. The play's redundancy is the main issue, as well as an entire scene that - albeit probably being meant to explain the men's roles by having them simulate what they do on their plane - takes up too much stage time and doesn't have weight in the long run.
All in all, what Think of England needs is to think of their audience and be unafraid to kill its darlings for the greater good.
Photo credit: Ali Wright