Eastern Angles’ play sheds light on Churchill’s secret army

It was our finest hour; but the summer of 1940 could’ve been so different.

The Dunkirk evacuations have ended in disaster; hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been captured, leaving Britain defenceless.

But there is hope in the form of Winston Churchill’s special auxiliary units, charged to co-ordinate resistance and create chaos behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion.

Eastern Angles’ spring tour Private Resistance is a “what if” drama based on real plans and personal testimony from members.

It’s written by company founder Ivan Cutting, who discovered the plans while researching previous war-time drama On The Home Front, 20 years ago.

Suffolk had several of these units. Secrecy was vital to their survival with many members refusing to talk about the existence of these units even after the end of the war.

[I mean it’s a fascinating premise for a piece]

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“It’s fascinating. I’m, still reading about it now to be honest even though we’re months in to the process,” says London-based actor Phil Pritchard.

It’s a bit of a homecoming for the 41-year-old; having lived in Claydon and Ipswich for many years as a youngster.

“It’s nice to be back, I do miss this part of the world actually,” says the former Orwell Park student.

He’s got a sister in Woodbridge, one brother in Ipswich, another in Marks Tey and is staying with his mum in Kesgrave during the show’s four-month run.

“I normally only get to see them once a year so it’s great; I always wanted to work in Ipswich, either at the Wolsey or with Eastern Angles so it’s nice to get the chance.”

He plays two parts; starting with Manningtree gamekeeper Frank who’s recruited to one of the units.

“They recruited local people who knew the land like the back of their hand because the auxiliary units worked at night. They were never confrontational, they were never supposed to engage the enemy but to move around in silence, sabotage and destroy things and get home quietly.”

The first act focuses on the lead up to the German invasion; the second, two-plus years later, sees the Nazis fully entrenched in the country.

“In the second act [I play] Alan, he’s from Manchester and been radicalised by the war and joined the communists. By this time cracks are starting to appear because the Russians have just defeated them at Stalingrad.

“There’s an idea in the country that maybe if there’s an uprising they can create a second front, a possible fight back.”

Even in this warped reality, women continue to play a vital role in the war effort; none more so than feisty Prue, who’s just signed up with the ATS.

“She’s extremely forward,” laughs actress Bishanyia Vincent from Freemantle in Western Australia. “She’s probably the most forward character in the play. She says it as it is, it’s a fantastic part.”

The way in which Prue changes reflects the effect the occupation has on the country.

“You see quite a different side to her. Prue still has that fight inside her, but it’s almost like everything’s turned grey; never knowing when it’s going to end which is the hardest thing, I think.

“It’s an incredible play, really something that makes you question and makes you wonder what could have happened. It’s fantastically written, Ivan’s done a good job of slipping in some comedy moments there it will be fun.”

The war-time spirit extends into real life too, with the entire cast helping to set up at each venue.

“We don’t help; we do all of it,” laughs Bishanyia. “It’s something I’ve never actually experienced in theatre which is fantastic.”

They leave HQ – Ipswich’s Sir John Mills Theatre - usually about 2pm every day, arriving at the venue about 3pm.

“We set up until about half five, everything; we’re talking about banging wood together, basically building the set from nothing. I’m in charge of all the costumes and props,” she laughs.

“We have to be on the ball because costumes have to be washed every night or every other night and if a prop goes missing… because we’re in the middle of nowhere, potentially in a village hall, we have to make do and mend like they would in the war,” she laughs.

She must be looking forward to staying put for a while?

“Oh yeah two weeks break,” she laughs.

Private Resistance is playing now at Sir John Mill’s Theatre, Gatacre Road, Ipswich, until April 21. It then visits Crowfield Village Hall on April 24, Assington Village Hall April 25, Hindolveston Village Hall April 26, Wetheringsett Village Hall April 27, Stansfield Village Hall April 28, Bressingham Village Hall April 30, Stutton Community Hall May 1, Wrabness Village Hall May 2, Wells’ Granary Theatre May 3, East Anglian Railway Museum, Wakes Colne, May 4-5; Westleton Village Hall May 8, Hockwold Village Hall May 9, Maldon Town Hall May 10, Woodbridge’s Community Hall May 11-12, Harleston’s Archbishop Sancroft High School May 15, Rougham’s Blackthorpe Barn May 16-17 and Parham’s Airfield Museum May 18-20.

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