Vault Festival 2018: Think of England
The dark, industrial vaults beneath Waterloo supply the perfect backdrop for Think of England, a story set in a 1940s air raid shelter. As the room fills with the noise of a siren, we enter wartime Britain. Bette and Vera, two charitable Northern ladies, bustle on stage chattering as they decorate the tunnel for a tea dance to entertain the troops. The cloud of mist that hangs over the performance from the beginning hints that all is not so innocent as it first appears.
Enter the airmen, two brash Lieutenants and one bumbling Corporal, played with adorable unease by Stefan Manual. The Canadians, with well-executed accents, bring a buzz to the stage and the tea dance begins. The following central part of the piece meanders slightly, with the pace and dramatic direction lost in the everyday chatter of the script.
Effective sound production spurs the narrative on, with music and bombs continually interjecting proceedings, reminding us that all the action takes place under the cloud of war. Sound throughout not only roots us in the period but also creates dramatic tension in its absence. In tandem with what we can hear, Madeline Gould’s script, based on real-life scandals of the time, slowly reveals a darker side, as the scars and impacts of the conflict sow friction among the group.
As a piece of immersive theatre, audience involvement is interspersed throughout, beginning with assembling bunting and culminating in a dance. At times it is amusing and enjoyable but at others it feels a bit awkward. As Think of England reaches its dramatic climax there is a sense of uncertainty and intrusion and, as a result, engagement becomes half-hearted.
Produced by female-focused theatre group Anonymous Is A Women, the play successfully unveils an often overlooked side of war: the experience of the women left behind. As Vera states, this time in history changed women, who worked the factories and ran the towns – the epoch of the modern woman was beginning. The female slant on the action makes a refreshing change from wartime stories that so often highlight the experience of men.
Excellent performances from all the cast, particularly Madeline Gould as the brash Vera and Pip Bragnall as the lecherous Lieutenant, stimulate the show, the momentum of which is lagging at times. The result is a pleasant jaunt down memory lane tinged by the unsavoury realities of war.
Photo: Ali Wright
Think of England is at Vault Festival 2018 from 7th until 11th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the festival website here.