Chris Eldon Lee reviews the premiere of Somewhere In England, which runs at Clwyd Theatr Cymru until Saturday November 8th.
So…the BBC was lying after all!
When, in 1941, they moved the morale-lifting ITMA show out of air-raid London, they said they were broadcasting from “Somewhere in England”. But they were actually in North Wales. The cheats!
Eight decades later that wartime expediency has given birth to one of the most original and entertaining shows Theatr Clwyd has proudly staged.
The premise is completely true. The BBC brought the Light Programme stars of “It’s That Man Again” – Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, Jack Train, Carol Morrison et al – to the comparative safety of Bangor; so Hitler (who is so wittily denigrated in the show’s title) could not extinguish the flame of hope it beamed out over our beleaguered nation.
Author Mike James has authentically augmented that story – and Handley’s radio scripts – to create an evening worthy of a Prix Italia.
There’s a love story, of course. Local lad Dewi is engaged to perform the sound effects (“before your very eyes!”) but he’d also quite like to be engaged to a rosy Land Army Girl. Meanwhile, the local establishment (in the shape of Richard Elfin’s hilariously lecherous, fire and brimstone Reverend) pours damnation on the BBC’s depravities; and, up in the night hills, Fifth Columnists seem to be signalling to the Nazis.
The banter is bright and bi-lingual.
The recreations of the studios shows are first class. (I know, my Dad made me listen to his tapes). Tommy Handley’s quick-fire, period wisecracks are immaculately, machine-gun delivered by a darting Philip Bretherton; and Paul Barnwell (pictured) has the charm and elasticity of Big Hearted Arthur Askey down to a tee. His saucy rendition of “I Want a Banana” (double entendre intended) is the cream on a jug full of 1940s hits, each more redolent than the last and all performed by Clwyd’s familiar and versatile actor/musicians. Yet again Georgina White shines as the sexy siren saxophonist who blames her calculated man hunting on ‘the emergency’.
Nick Beadle’s superbly sensitive lighting plot readily transports us out of the dark studio and up into green hills and cosy homes.
In and around the town we visit The Crown where the witticisms are in Welsh. With the aid of sur-titles, we discover that Phylip Harries’ grumpy landlord abhors the English – unless they are buying, of course. But the translations far from match the locals’ body language and we ‘foreigners’ in the audience had a great night being so inventively insulted. The rib-ticking lessons in Welsh swearing will certainly come in handy.
There is good, solid and unexpected drama in this show, but it’s the cheeriness of ITMA that will stay with me longest. It all adds up to a hugely enjoyable night of nostalgia – even for those far too young to have been there.
And at last I know where all my father’s favourite catch phrases came from. “Can I do you know, sir?” “Don’t forget the diver”. “After you Claude; no, after you Cecil”. “I go …… I come back”.
Well….. I’ve been, and I might very well come back again.
As Arthur Askey himself might say “Eye fank ewe!”
Visit www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk for bookings & information about Clwyd Theatr Cymru.
Photo : Catherine Ashmore