at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 8th March 2011
I don’t envy publicity officers, having to write blurbs for advertisements months before a show opens. In the publicity for Goucher’s War, the play is described as “darkly comic”, which the final production does not seem to be at all. However, although many of the comic elements are hard to place, under the direction of Nikki Sved Theatre Alibi have nonetheless created a beautifully dark piece of storytelling.
Before the Second World War begins, the peaceful Reverend Donald Goucher writes stories about Hiawyn, a mischievous pig who plays pranks on all and sundry. During the war, however, Hiawyn is commandeered by the British military, and Goucher is asked to write stories placing the pig behind enemy lines. As the war continues, Goucher’s wacky ideas for explosive shaving brushes and deadly Chianti bottles are made true by teams of scientists for use on French soil, the guilt of which drives our hero into madness. It is a story of the power, and by extension the destructive power, of the imagination.
What makes Goucher’s War stand out is that it is essentially total theatre in a studio space, incorporating music, small pieces of movement and animation. To show Hiawyn’s antics, short films animated by Tim Britton are projected onto a back wall, narrated by the cast, allowing us to see the character in action. The score, created by Thomas Johnson and played by Finn Beames, lends itself perfectly to the script, including some jolly accordion sections and theramin-induced warbling. Trina Bramman’s set resembles something out of a Wallace and Gromit film and is playful in its childishness. Mention should also be made of Marcus Bartlett’s lighting design which lights both set and actors to make them look how we expect the 1940s to have looked.
The cast of three is consistently strong. In the male roles, Derek Frood is straight-backed and military, speaking in gruff tones, while Jordan Whyte as the women in the script offers a contrast, switching in front of our eyes from young scientist to fragile old woman. As the eponymous Goucher, Michael Wagg holds the piece together and portrays his character’s downfall with sensitivity and pathos.
Although Goucher’s War isn’t a ‘darkly comic’ play, it is still an entrancing and ingenious piece of story-telling. Even though Daniel Jamieson’s script is incredibly human, it does at times seem a little childish, even when not in story-telling mode. It is a shame the ideas of espionage and propaganda are not considered in a little more detail, but at the same time this does allow Goucher’s extraordinarily touching story to shine through.