Review: Somewhere In England, by Polly Wiseman, Eastern Angles, on tour until June 4
- Credit: Archant
The US 8th Airforce played a huge part in the history and the cultural development of Suffolk and East Anglia during the latter half of the 20th century but the quietly spoken people of Suffolk provided a perceptive prism through which the Americans could view themselves.
This is what forms the heart of Polly Wiseman’s engaging and thought-provoking new play which Eastern Angles is taking on tour this spring. It’s a play about people, about individuals rather than generic stereotypes and it is through four distinct characters that we get to see what different worlds the Americans and the English inhabited in 1943 and 1944.
Directed by Gari Jones, who many will remember from his work at the Colchester Mercury, the play introduces us to Joe, a black engineer, played with great dignity by Nathanael Campbell, his friend Ginny, (Grace Osborn) a feisty 15 year old local girl with ambitions to get into the local grammar school, Chester, (Joshua Hayes) a good-intentioned flyer who finds it hard to fight the system and Viv, a seemingly head-strong cockney land-girl who is imbued with great spirit by Georgia Brown.
The four actors drive the story along with only minimal props to suggest a setting but the writing and the performances are so strong that you don’t need a literal landscape to transport you to the airfield or The Red Lion because the play and the actors make this world spring to life.
This is a play about how the US airforce treated its black personnel differently from its white airmen. The black battalions arrived in Suffolk first to build the airfields and then the white aircrews arrived. Interestingly the locals had no racial problems until the white airmen arrived on-station and brought the rules of segregation with them.
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But, Somewhere In England is not a lecture. Polly Wiseman did a great deal of research before writing this play but we never get bogged down with facts and figures. The research only shows in the attention to detail in the settings and the well-defined characters. This is a true play packed with drama and humour and a wonderful sense of time and place.
The play provides a fascinating peek at the world of mixed race relationships – at how they were officially frowned on but unofficially tolerated (at least by the locals) until the prospect of ‘mongrel’ babies loomed.
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In the second half we get introduced to civil rights activist Walter White, WRVS stalwart Lady Stella Reading and Lynette, a campaigning journalist, these represent the world outside the bubble of airbase and Suffolk village and offer a sharp reminder as to what the social campaigners of the time were up against.
Somewhere In England is a lively, engaging show, which draws you in and makes you think, as you get to know and care about these four individuals, portrayed with great care and warmth by four charismatic performers.
Eastern Angles are at their best when they are exploring the quirks of our collective personality and bringing our culture and heritage to life. This is one of their best shows for a long time.