This year marks the 75th anniversary of VE day and Phil Wilmott’s Essential Classics season will be commemorating the occasion while drawing parallels to Britain’s current state of affairs. The season will include works by Lionel Bart and Noel Coward and kicks off with a reworking of Tom Brown’s School Days, writes Rosie O’Connell.
The production is set – contrary to the original book – in the midst of World War 2, with the public school boys of the tale being bred to go on to become leaders in the battle against Nazi Germany. While the timeline is shifted, the majority of the plot points remain true to the text which seems only to highlight the antiquated institutional structures that the upper class, public school is operating within and in turn creating a clear comparison to our most recent General Election.
The set was fantastic, seamlessly and distinctly transitioning from classroom to bedroom to office to staffroom with very few tweaks or additions. It helps the piece to remain very precise and concise which in a small space such as the Union isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to achieve.
The singing throughout, mostly unaccompanied bar some moments with a piano or guitar, was truly standout for me. Performing a series of traditional songs and hymns, rather than full blown musical numbers, the cast of actor-musicians harmonise together beautifully. The whole 14 strong cast are cohesive and engaging with Hudson Brown’s enthusiastic idyllic Tom Brown and Sam James Page’s assured East standing out. Ursula Mohan too deserves a mention for her comedic timing as Sally the cook, effortlessly creating a full, likeable character – a real pleasure to watch and laugh alongside.
With the strong message of our country’s deep-rooted, unhealthy perception of class and privilege and in turn power, weaker aspects of the piece become somewhat unimportant. Sure the actual plot may be a little thin on the ground at times, but there is enough good here with casting, music and staging that the modest narrative didn’t end up detracting from the charming experience or elitist implication.
Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London, SE1 0LR until February 1st. Times: Tuesdays – Saturdays 7.30pm; Matinees 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission: £22, £20 Concessions, £15 Under 18s. Phone: 020 7261 9876