Sunday, 23 October 2011

Review: Three Days in May

This is Kay's first, of hopefully many, weekly column pieces that will be a little bit different to the usual serious by-election and politics articles we have on this site. As we said the other day, the political blogosphere is full of bloggers who are firmly inside the 'political bubble'. Kay neither has the time nor the inclination to keep up with said bubble so hopefully this column will give a bit of perspective from someone who's interested in, but not too involved with, politics. Sometimes the column will take a look at a recent event or story, others [like today] it will review a show or film our readers might be interested in seeing. So without further ado, here's her take on the play 'Three Days in May'. TH

Three Days in May is a political drama set in Churchill's War Cabinet. It documents the discussions and decisions leading to the country's decision to either sue for peace or stand up to Hitler's Nazi Germany. Made over three days, it is a decision that would change the World forever.

When Three Days in May began I was a bit concerned that it was actually going to feel about three days long.

The whole play is pretty much set around six characters and their time spent in one room. In here they discuss a matter that the kind of audience watching Three Days in May would probably already know inside out.

Given that the majority of the narrative is based around one room, the war cabinet, my expectations didn't go much beyond making it look realistic, which it does. However the set designer, Gary McCann did have a few clever artistic devices despite his restrictions.

The first was a map of Europe which showed where German troops were. This helped to visualise the urgency of the matter. It would be quite difficult to portray everything going on outside the cabinet when everything we are shown occurs within it.

The second was the bureau of one Jock Colville, Churchill's personal secretary at the time, brilliantly played by James Alper. It is through Colville that much of the story is told. Everything within the war cabinet witnessed by us is also witnessed by him. McCann cleverly set his bureau in the foreground but to the left of the stage, this way he is always present but not obtrusive.

Alper opens the play with a recap about events so far to ensure that we're all up to speed. Whilst I was watching the show I couldn't help but find that this part was dragging. I think that this wasn't because the historical re-cap was too long, as it wasn't. I think it was more the anticipation to meet the characters.

Winston Churchill is played by the well known actor Warren Clarke, famed for his role as Detective Superintendent Andrew Daziel in the television crime-drama Daziel and Pascoe. Other notable appearances include a role in the cult film a Clockwork Orange. Clarke even once played a young Churchill in the 70s in a television mini-series called Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill.

Billed as Clarkes "return to the stage for the first time in a decade" I'm sure that I was not alone in wanting to meet his version of the Churchill we all know so well. As expected, Clarke was superb. He didn't just capture the mannerisms and characteristics of him, he got the spirit too.

Though excellent the rest of the cast weren't to be overshadowed. Robert Demeger brought a troubled sensitivity to former-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whilst Jeremy Clyde gave Churchill a strong but well-reasoned opposition in his portrayal of Lord Halifax. The play only really got going when this trio started to try and find a solution to the very immediate problems facing Great Britain.

Despite a familiarity with the decisions made in the build up to Britain's involvement in the Second World War I'm not sure many of us had really considered how such decisions were made. It's hard to imagine that such difficult and World altering decisions were made over a series of meetings with so few people in one little room.

It's also remarkable that it was only down to a couple of people, the two Labour members of the cabinet were already sided with Churchill and this would have been enough. However despite Churchill's stubbornness on most matters he refused to make the decision without the support of either Lord Halifax or Chamberlain.

It's this conflict, and Ben Brown's clever dialogue, which keeps the audience engaged and keeps the pace moving. By the end although you already know what decision the war cabinet came to you are eager to discover how it came about.

After a slightly staggering start Three Days in May really finds its feet. Alan Strachan's direction allows the story space to breathe which allows the audience to emerge themselves in it slowly but, eventually, fully.

Three Days in May will be showing at Trafalgar Studios in London from Monday 31st October. If you get the chance, and regardless of how much history you know, go and let yourself be a part of one of the most important decisions ever made.


Kayleigh Lewis


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