They were already downhearted at having inadvertently elected to spend July’s seemingly sole sunny afternoon inside a theatre and under any other circumstances the lure of sunshine and 70%-off sales in the nicer stores of Regent Street would have had them ripping up their tickets without a second thought.
But they were at Carrie’s War at the invitation of the producer who had emailed the Whingers to ask: “Have you forgotten us? We produce a whole show, await your comments, but find you seem to have left us as yet unvisited?” By the end of the exchange the Whingers had eventually decided to invite themselves to the intriguing prospect of a Tuesday matinee (whoever heard of such a thing?) and poor Mr Producer was simply asking “Why won’t you let me have the last word?”.
And so the Whingers found themselves walking in to the Apollo feeling rather grand until they were bumped back to earth at the horror of finding themselves to be not only about the oldest people in the stalls, but seemingly be some decades. Deep breath.Anyway. Carrie’s War is Emma Reeves‘ adaptation of Nina Bawden‘s 1973 childrens’ book about the adventures of the eponymous heroine (Sarah Edwardson, left, with Prunella Scales) evacuated to Wales during WWII to live with the domineering Mr Evans (Sîon Tudor Owen). Looking around the audience, Andrew made mental note to check whether or not it was still possible to get children evacuated (although Wales seems a bit harsh and children have an awful lot more rights these days).
The Whingers were further quite captivated very early on when one of the characters vomited down the front of another (always compelling if done well and causing one immediately to think of the ongoing misery for the wardrobe mistress).
Phil rapidly developed a total empathy with the evacuees. Imagine being billeted in the horrible Mr Evans’ house where you’re deprived of meat and not allowed to walk on the stair carpet: it was just like a visit to Andrew’s residence where very similar rules apply, Phil being routinely required to suffer the iniquities of chewing on a meatless sausage and ascending the stairs in a borrowed old pair of Andrew’s fluffy carpet slippers.
There was much to enjoy performance-wise including Tudor Owen as the terrifying Mr Evans and Kacey Ainsworth (apparently well known for her Little Mo in Eastenders) as his long-suffering sister Auntie Lou. Special plaudits for being able to play children without being embarrassing (a rare art in our experience, especially to anyone who has seen Blood Brothers) go to Edwardson, James Joyce (Try finding him on Google! We blame the parents.) and to John Heffernan (presumably not the writer of Snakes On A Plane nor the sadly deceased popular Gunnersbury teacher).
Prunella Scales has a much smaller role than you might imagine from the billing (fewer scenes than Ian Lavender has in Sister Act) and frankly it’s just as well as the Whingers were struggling to hear what she was saying.
We were also thrilled to see playing Mr Johnny a visibly disabled actor James Beddard (showreel) for what is probably only the second time in the history of the West End Whingers. And in a further breakthrough for diversity many of the Welsh characters were actually played by Welsh people although they must be in short supply these days what with the Doctor Who / Torchwood juggernaut and Gavin and Stacey.
Reeves’ adaptation manages to tell the story at a creditably pace which is aided by Edward Lipscomb‘s compact yet versatile set and the direction of Andrew Loudon – yet all the while retaining the humanity of the story. Indeed, was that perhaps a little moistness appearing in the Whingers’ eyes at the end? Both denied it vehemently.
And what of the children? Do you know what? They were perhaps the best behaved audience we’ve sat with in a long while. No mobile phones, no chatter, no loud unwrapping of sweets. Exemplary. We did check with the producer afterwards to see whether they had in fact been sedated in deference to the Whingers but he denied it. They should bus in the audience from Oliver! for an object lesson in auditorium etiquette.