(reviewed at the Brentwood Theatre on 1 April)
Polly Wiseman’s new play for Eastern Angles – Somewhere in England is touring as the company’s contribution to the Eighth in the East project – takes two GIs and two girls living in rural Suffolk to weave a story of four clashes of cultures. Joe (Nathanael Campbell) is Black and a qualified engineer, though the American Air Force sees him only as useful labour at the base.
Chester (Joshua Hayes) is a White airman, who would actually prefer to be grounded; he thinks his friendly condescension towards Joe and Londoner Land girl Viv (Georgia Brown) mrks him out as someone superior. Viv has become something of a role model, though not always in the best way, by schoolgirl Ginny (Grace Osborn).
In some ways the plot follows an obvious course, though the characterisation of the main characters (Brown, Hayes and Osborn also take on other roles) is sufficiently sharp and in-depth to disguise any predictabilities. Gai Jones directs with a simple design by Ryan Dawson Laight and costumes which allow for quick changes on and off stage.
Campbell gives a nuanced performance as a man who knows that he world is skewed to be unjust, is prepared to contest this but knows where the limit are likely to be well into his old age – if he survives that long. You can’t really warm to – let alone like – Chester and Hayes wisely doesn’t attempt to gloss the man’s brash self-regard. Viv is a girl doing her bit for the war effort, but also feeling disorientated; this Brown conveys clearly.
Osborn’s Ginny develops into a fascinating character, a 15-year old with emotions beyond her age, caught between girlish gawkiness and a burgeoning maturity with which she is, as yet, unable to cope. It’s a stage most women will probably recognise from their own teenage. Tom Fox’s sound-scape puts us in the historical period punctuated by reminders that war is not a game.
Somewhere in England is on tour to 4 June including performances at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich (25-30 April), the Haverhill Arts Centre (10 May), the Luton Hat Factory (17 May), Sheringham’s Little Theatre (25 May), the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford (26 May) and The Cut, Halesworth (31 May).