One man show thyat takes you into the mind set and the adventures of a young Winston Chuchill in the Boer War in the last year of the nineteenth century.
Winston Churchill is generally viewed as a large cigar toting old man, with two fingers held the right way for polite signalling, and a gravelly line in we’ll fight them on the beaches speeches. The Young Winston takes the true story of the early Churchill’s capture by the Boers, and his subsequent escape. This first outing of a production about Churchill starts with the young toff himself asleep at the bottom of a mine shaft with only rats for company. He is being hidden there after escaping from a Boer prisoner-of-war camp – a real life event that had a huge impact on Churchill. It’s a good place to be for the show, which has a convincing but uncluttered and skilfully lit set, as this rather abject and frightened young man postures and reveals of himself by turns. Ironically this great speechifier and communicator is reduced to talking aloud to the only audience present, an unspecified number of rats. There is a derring do boy’s adventure quality to the production as well which is nicely counterparted by the alternating fears and realities of savage conflicts.
The young Churchill was a rather reckless but brave character, with a definite eye to the main chance. Freddie Machin brings out the endearing heroics and bluster as well as the occasional sadder and more vulnerable moments. The production works as a spectacle because it doesn’t just take on an icon of the twentieth century, but because it makes the flaws and contradictions believable as those of a young rather ebullient character making it a convincing portrayal.
There are good moments of comedy, tracing the reversals of self presentation a non –combatant who should have been released in one plea to his Boer captors, a fierce fighting combatant in his application to be considered for a prisoner exchange. The show is historically accurate in as far as the preceding u-turn is well documented, as is the fact of the four or five days down at the bottom of a coalmine. This is a good setting for this one man play that allows a full recounting and re-enacting of a brash and confident life, a self justification of himself that often, tellingly, falls between two opposing stalls – between “I’m not just a son of a lord”, and, “No you must, I am the son of a lord you know”, but still lets you admire the energy and the courage beneath.
The show comes to quite an abrupt end, as the bells ring that signal someone has come to move him on from his hiding place – so unless you know the real story in advance, you’re not quite sure how this episode ends – possibly this needs tidying up in terms of the performance. And maybe there does need to be some tie in with what this brash fantasist actually became – although you would not want to distract attention from a very present and vibrant performance that draws the audience in very well.
Reviewed by Bill Parslow 24/05/12