One woman tells us the story of her war (based on the stories of those who lived through it) through fast paced physical theatre combining clowning, puppetry, mime and visual storytelling. A first class performance delivered with panache, humour and warmth. Not to be missed.
A woman waits at a railway station, clutching the much read letter with news of her husband’s return from the war. The train comes, but he doesn’t, so she waits for the next train. While she waits she shows us her war, her life on the home front – made up of the minutiae of daily life. There is work, there is cooking and caring and sharing... and always the wait for news. Her war is punctuated by waiting for letters.
Waiting for Stanley is devised by Leela Bunce and Alexander Parsonage of ‘Finger in the Pie’ theatre and is based on the stories of women who lived through the war. So much reminded me of the stories my mother told me of her war as a young wife and mother.
This is fast paced physical theatre combining clowning, puppetry, mime and visual storytelling delivered with panache, humour and warmth. Bunce’s performance is outstanding, the pace never flags and each story element moves seamlessly into the next, punctuated at intervals by the next delivery of letters. Her endearing approach and carefully devised story pays tribute to all those women, who like my mother, got on with life while they waited for news of distant husbands.
One of the joys of mime is the way that, once an element is established, we need only the merest hint of it to know exactly what is happening. The sense of time passing shown by the journey each batch of letters becomes more economical with each rendition but we shared the joy or the disappointment with the same intensity.
The set is deceptively simple, a stack of suitcases in keeping with the starting point, a railway station, but nearly every one of those cases has a secret to reveal or contributes to the action in some way. Our imagination recreates the space as the interior of her home, her kitchen, the shelter... whilst the suitcases become kitchen tables, typewriters, a child’s bed...
The action is supported by a sound track evocative of the war years – the air raid siren, war time radio with cookery hints and music of the period. The action moves seamlessly from one story to the next often recasting a prop or suitcase en route. I particularly enjoyed the fruit bun dough morphing into Churchill via a scene as the baby.
The audience were drawn in throughout, at one point cast as fellow neighbours in the shelter, joining in a spirited rendition of A Bicycle Made for Two – she even had me dancings!
It was funny, evocative, sad and heart warming - I doubt I was the only one with a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye at times.
There is tremendous power in working without words, as an audience we have to concentrate, to watch. We hear by watching, there can be no glancing away as we might in other shows leaving the story to reach our brains via slightly inattentive ears. It is a quite different experience and, as someone who tends to be rather text bound, I found my gradually increasing awareness of the subtle details of the visual story one of the joys of watching an expert at work.
This show offers so much more than an entertaining hour for physical theatre enthusiasts - it is a master class for any performer, as well as a poignant reminder of the incredible resilience of our mothers and grandmothers who fought on the home front.
Reviewed by Kate Saffin 4th August 2012