All Clear

Date 21st June 2019
Society KADCAT
Venue St Bartholomew’s Church Hall, Plymouth
Type of Production Play
Director Jade Callender

Report

Author: Gareth Davies

All Clear!  (by Sam Crawley)

It was great to be invited to this production of a new play by Sam Crawley, performed by KatCat Theatre Company, and directed by Jade Callender. Set during the Plymouth Blitz in 1943 the author opted to base his story in a Devonport Public Air Raid Shelter to enhance the sense of community he was focused on exploring. This idea worked well from the opening scene when the actors entered the auditorium from behind and to all sides of the audience singing ‘Count Your Blessings and Smile’. Immediately we were immersed in the wartime atmosphere of the 1940s – music is such a powerful evocation of an era.

A large cast of nineteen performed a wide array of interesting, fun and (in some cases) intriguing characters, brought together in the shelter as they wait one night for the ‘All Clear!’ The programme notes emphasize that the characters were all fictional, but there was a truth and integrity in the writing which impressed me, and I found the piece both emotionally engaging and thought-provoking. It was clear that the historical research provided by Chris Morrison was used effectively throughout.

Scenes were interspersed with musical numbers from the era and I enjoyed listening to those golden songs, particularly classics such as ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’, ‘Stormy Weather’ and ‘The Lambeth Walk’, as well as sentimental ballads including ‘There’ll always be an England’ and Dame Vera Lynn’s anthem ‘We’ll Meet Again’ at the finale. I have to say I did find it a little odd watching some of the actors miming to some of the songs – this is something I don’t think I’ve seen before – and I wondered why the director had opted for this.

In the central role of Kirk, Sam Crawley was a bright and upbeat presence throughout the story. He was ably supported by a wide range of featured roles, too many to name them all, but performances which stood out for me were John Rees as a ‘Captain Mainwaring’-like General Teagler, a pompous air raid warden; Jon Dredge giving a fun and rounded portrayal of the spiv Stephen; Karl Davis as the mysterious William (was he a German spy?) and Vicky Miller as Candy, a touching role later in the story. However, I must congratulate the whole ensemble for an enjoyable evening of new theatre, from Pauline Mansfield as the Radio Announcer to Antonia Gregory as Miss Francesca.

The stage space was utilized effectively to create the air raid shelter, with entrances from the standard wings as well as through the audience. I really liked how the entire space was integrated into the performance, literally surrounding the audience on numerous occasions. The set was authentic with some good attention to 1940s detail, along with the various props. The authenticity was clear in the costume design, makeup and hair – I loved the Victory rolls, ladies!

Lighting and sound were appropriate for the space – well done to the technical crew, led by the experienced Andy Hazell (it was great to see Andy again, by the way) and it would be remiss of me not to say well done to ‘Jack’, ‘Stuart’, ‘Sara’, ‘Annie’, ‘Kim’ and ‘Zena’ for their hard work backstage as well as Sophie Hartley for an informative and cleverly designed programme, incorporating a newspaper front page for its cover. I would be careful in future regarding your choice of font, perhaps: the headline ‘Shifty Steve Strikes Again’ didn’t quite read like that on first glance - I did wonder what kind of show I was in for!

It is always difficult reviewing new writing. I always want to be encouraging and it is brilliant that Sam Crawley has the bug for it. The script was generally fluent and balanced, but I would suggest some judicious editing in some scenes and reflect on whether a gag works successfully for it to be included in performance. Sometimes there were lines or moments of comedy which felt laboured or slipping into the realms of cliché. Well done, though, Sam. Might Plymouth have its very own Miller, Williams or Stoppard in its midst?

Congratulations to everyone at KadCat Theatre Company and thank you again for inviting me to see this play. Director Jade Callender was suitably proud of you all. I look forward to hearing more of your projects and to being invited to future productions.

Gareth Davies

NODA SW District 3