The second instalment of the Union Theatre’s Essential Classics season comes in the form of Lionel Bart’s musical Blitz! and it doesn’t disappoint, writes Rosie O’Connell.
Based on Bart’s own experiences of growing up in the East End during the Blitz, the plot revolves around Jewish widow and matriarch Mrs Blitztein (Jessica Martin) who is either worrying about her wayward son Harry (Robbie McArtney) or at odds with her market trader neighbour, Cockney Alf Locke(Michael Martin). From her pickled herring stall and his fruit and veg, they argue about almost anything. With the harrowing backdrop of 1940s blackout London, this intricate family drama soon develops when Locke’s son Georgie (Connor Carson) falls for Blitztein’s daughter Carol (Caitlin Anderson) and it seems the two families are about to become reluctantly closer.
Jessica Martin delivers a truly outstanding performance, appearing in almost every scene and never losing the audience for a moment of it, from the silly ‘Bake A Cake’ to the more serious ‘So Tell Me’. Endearing moments are found between Connor Georgie Locke and Carol Blitztein in the charming duet ‘Opposites’, with Anderson’s soprano vocals standing out during ‘Far Away’ in the second half.
Given such a small space, it never ceases to amaze me how well the Union Theatre hosts a full musical. How the cast don’t constantly bump into each other, particularly during the larger numbers such as ‘Who’s This Geezer Hitler’ and ‘Petticoat Lane’, it is a wonder and a credit to the choreography of Daniel Maguire and stage design from Reuben Speed. The entire cast is enthusiastic and energetic throughout, whether they are squashed into a corner of the stage for an air-raid or down The Lane on a busy Sunday.
What all of this culminates in is a fun, well-tuned revival with enough stand out moments from the cast that anywhere that the plot is a little thin is mostly forgivable. For musical fans it is a must see, given that the opportunity to see Blitz! is a rare one.
Blitz! is on at the Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London, SE1 0LR until March 7th. Admission: £22, £20. Phone: 020 7261 9876.
Photos: Mark Senior