Blitz!

Date 2nd June 2016
Society Stage One Youth Theatre Group
Venue Ferneham Hall, Fareham
Type of Production Musical
Director Jacqui Ivemy
Musical Director Dennis Brombley
Choreographer Phoebe Saunders

Report

Author: Mark Donalds

In a week when I had also seen Lionel Bart’s Oliver! it was interesting to contrast his lesser known musical Blitz!, which opened in London just two years later in 1962 and wonder why it has never achieved the same degree of success. As its name suggests, Blitz is set in the East End of London during the intense aerial bombings of World War Two and focuses on two families: the Jewish Blitzteins and the cockney Lockes, who run adjacent market stalls in Petticoat Lane but do not get on with each other. We follow the lives of the two families as they endure the bombing, their sons going off to war – or deserting – and we see the racial and social diversity that existed in the East End, which didn’t stop people pulling together to survive, despite having their homes destroyed and living with the lasting effects of the injuries they suffered.

It is a great tribute to the director, Jacqui Ivemy, and the maturity of the young actors involved that they managed to portray so well not only the suffering endured by East Enders of the time, but also the overriding cheerfulness that saw them through. Jessie Wright, as the matriarch Mrs Blitztein, and Adam Brombley as her adversary, Alfred Locke, carried a lot of responsibility for the success of the show - but we were in safe hands. Both gave confident and assured performances, with excellent acting and singing and spot-on accents.

They were ably supported by Ethan Emery as Harry Blitztein, the cowardly son who went AWOL and worked as a spiv, and Jonah Ford as Georgie Locke, the brave son who went to war, returning injured but still in love with Carol Blitztein (Sian Samways). Carol had been blinded during an air raid but Georgie still loved her and their eventual marriage unites the two families. Dylan Rutter as Harry’s sidekick, Ernie Nearmiss, always bringing news of tragedy and disaster, produced a great character and all four gave excellent, believable performances. There was a huge cast of supporting characters, who all created and sustained the wartime atmosphere really well, many doubling up on parts. One character who particularly stood out for me was Mrs Smith, who had some wonderfully cutting lines, delivered to perfection by Eleanor Shellard.

I must pay tribute to director Jacqui Ivemy for pulling together such a big production, choreographer Phoebe Saunders, for managing to get the large cast to move with great precision, without it looking staged, and Wardrobe Mistress Mandy Baker for finding so many authentic-looking costumes. Praise too for the set design and construction team – I was surprised to be told that it was not a hired set – they had built it all themselves. It was most impressive – especially the tube station. The orchestra, with Dennis Brombley at the helm, must also be congratulated, for providing a good sound, very much in keeping with the era, and never drowning out the singers.

It was a powerful story with many parallels with the world we live in today, so I can only think that the lack of success originally was perhaps partly because 1962 was too soon after the real events to look back, and also that the show never ran on Broadway (it was thought that New Yorkers would not share Londoners’ nostalgia for the period). The tunes are very much in keeping with the war period, but nowhere near as catchy as those of Oliver – although you do get hints of the same melodies coming through at times - and while it’s not a laugh-out-loud show, there are plenty of gently amusing moments. With the benefit of greater distance from the war, I believe this show deserves a revival and if it were to be performed with anything like the gusto, enthusiasm and talent of Stage One Youth Theatre, it would be an enormous success.