Writer: Rianna Dearden
Director: Louise Skaaning
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Many of the best war films are set in Prisoner of War Camps, where something about the bravery of endurance under unthinkable conditions combined with the traditional notions of heroism focused around the all-important escape attempt make for compelling viewing. The Great Escape, The One That Got Away, The Colditz Story and even a few classic episodes of Allo Allo utilise the real life stories of PoWs during the Second World War, but Lost Watch Theatre Company has one more story to tell at the New Diorama Theatre.
Flew the Coop is based on the true story of Horace Greasley, who was captured in 1940 and became a camp barber where he met translator Rosa Rauchbach who worked for the German army facilitating the exchanges between soldiers and prisoners. After transfer to another camp, Rosa tracks Horace down and he ‘escapes’ more than 200 times to see meet her in a local church. But Horace and his companions want to escape for good and he enlists Rosa to help them.
Lost Watch’s new production is undoubtedly an innovative combination of narrative history and varied theatre technique, and you can tell the company has carefully selected its story to suit their quirky physical style. Yet, Flew the Coop’s slightly chaotic approach and stylistic repetitiveness make it difficult for the audience to keep the narrative straight and, crucially, to engage properly with the characters. And while the jaunty tone keeps the action tripping along, it does detract from the central romance and the genuine danger Greasley and Rauchbach put themselves in to see one another.
Part of the problem is that they are an insipid paring who have a flash of true love at the start and then coyly make eyes at each other for the rest of the production. Rianna Dearden’s Rosa is full of girlish enthusiasm and wide-eyed adoration but the idea that she’s crossed the country and run insuperable risks to help Horace just don’t see likely. And while Daniel Holme captures Horace’s frustration, tapping into the notion that British officers had a “duty” to escape, together they are more like two tepid teenagers at a disco than illicit lovers who risked the wrath of a ferocious dictatorship to be together.
The rest of the company – Dan Armstrong, Olivia Hirst and Agnes Wild – perform a variety of roles from Rosa’s parents, to camp guards and fellow prisoners, but the characterisation is often too similar to be able to properly differentiate between them with a broom handle representing a gun the only clue as to who’s who. There is an interesting, if undeveloped, subplot with a German officer who falls for Rosa but it is left hanging, and could be an opportunity to create more tension in the script.
The narrative itself jumps around and dates are shouted at the audience throughout to keep track, although the decision to mix the past with a modern-day Rauchbach appreciation club who essentially tell the story with additional contextual facts is only partially successful, often more distracting than helpful. There are a number of nice touches, including a clever montage of escape ideas that reference some of the classic films, and the choreographed “love dance” is a clever, if overused, method of conveying emotion, while mops and handles become useful props for mimicking anything from water to air rifles, and for creating useful sound effects.
Greasley and Rauchbach’s experience is an engaging one but after Greasley’s death there were doubts about the authenticity of his tale which questions the decision to play this as a straight love story, and seems like a missed opportunity for the company to use their exuberant style to explore the silliness as well. Lost Watch has a number of interesting ideas that make Flew the Coop very watchable but under the semi-sincere exterior, there’s an even funnier spoof trying to get out.
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Richard Davenport