Review: Home Fires Burning @ Custard Factory

Just occasionally you see something that’s packed so full of good stuff you know you’ll be thinking about it for years. This is absolutely the case with Big Script’s latest offering, five plays to commemorate the Armistice by members of this prestigious writer’s group in a production funded by Arts Council England.

It’s the richest of theatrical feasts exploring the effects of WW1 on a range of social classes both at home and abroad, Ian Craddock’s expert direction getting the very best out of his hand-picked cast as they bring to life a fascinatingly diverse host of characters affected by the conflict.

Andy Alsop’s Home Service showed what the lowest Midlands social classes endured during the war with shortages at home and men folk overseas, where a boy was glad to sign up to get a meal. Volunteer for Murder by Andrew McCoy turned the Wildean epigram loose on the whole issue of the conflict using the heartless platitudes that expressed the blind certainties of the upper classes exactly as if Oscar had set the Importance in 1917.

Without Our Consent showed the ironies and inconsistencies of the Women’s Suffrage movement during the conflict with women who had gone on hunger strike for their principles before the war now being urged by Mrs Pankhurt to change allegiance, support the government and offer comfort to the troops.

Martin Drury’s Fading Light movingly showed the terrible results of five years of struggle on the officer classes, once drilled to keep a stiff upper lip and now expected to return to the cosy domesticities of Edwardian England although still shell-shocked from five years of bombardment during the horrors of trench war.

But even amongst these beautiful miniature productions Liz John’s Perversion of Science shone out as a masterpiece of compression whose overshadowing back-story loomed to monstrous proportions. Here two married scientists came into conflict over the perversion of advancements they had both worked on, in this case the chlorine gas whose use was the first employment of chemical weaponry in war.

The superb quality of the writing brought out the very best in the multi-tasking performers Andy Alsop, Nick Baldock, Caroline Frewin, Oliver Leonard and Rebecca Newman.

Don’t take my word for it – if you love theatre, see this superb production for yourselves.

Home Fires Burning runs at the Mockingbird Theatre at Birmingham’s Custard Factory until Friday (November 13). For tickets priced at £10/£8 call 0845 680 1926 or the Mockingbird on 0121 224 7456. World War 1 wardens will light the way from the car park to the theatre.

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