By: Searchlight Theatre Company
Writer: David Robinson
It is the late 1930’a and as the BBC plays a light entertainment schedule to keep the mood of the nation in high spirits,, Neville Chamberlain(played by David Leeson) is in the run-up to his declaration of war. It’s a big dilemma for him as he has spoken to the German Chancellor (Mr Hitler) three times and come home to declare that the two nations are solid allies and that there will be “peace for our time”.
The decision to go to war weighs heavy on the Prime Minister’s mind as he talks it through with his assistant private secretary, Jack Colville (played by Freddy Goymer) and attends to his wife, off stage, as she copes with dark moods and various ailments.
Throughout the performance the audience is treated to songs from tenor of the day, Tom Burke (also Goymer). Some highlights include: The White Cliffs of Dover, When the Light Go on All Over the World, and a very humorous rendition of Ivor Novello’s hit, And Her Mother Came Too.
It becomes apparent, as the play continues, that Chamberlain is not only lamenting that a new war is upon the nation but is considering how his legacy will be viewed. He is a quietly ambitious man. He always has been. His father says of him that he is the smartest member of the family so wont go into politics, but his dad is wrong. Buoyed by the support of his wife, he becomes the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and then a Member of Parliament for the same region. When other people would be considering retirement his ambition is still raging, and in 1937 he becomes the Prime minister.
In a vain contemplation he wonders how many public houses in Birmingham (his constituency) will be named after him when he leaves office. He is sure Churchill will get many establishments named after him; he is circling around him, ready to take up the premiership role.
Well played, this two-hander is an interesting watch. Leeson and Goymer are consummate professionals and bounce off each other well. Leeson’s measured performance as a beleaguered man at the end of his career is spot on. Goymer sings well and as Colville provides the perfect foil for Leeson.
As the play draws to a close we see Chamberlain resigned to his fate. Sadly he died not long after leaving office, while his hypochondriac wife lasted well into the 1960’s.
While Chamberlain may still be waiting for a pub to be named after him, ironically Wetherspoons have named one of their venues, which used to be the Leigh Grand theatre, after the BBC singer in the play, Tom Burke.
A good watch, historically well researched and finely acted this is a solid hour’s worth of theatre.
Reviewed on 8th June