Writer: Victoria Willing
Director: Marie McCarthy
Reviewer: Sophia Moss
Spring Offensive is an intelligent, bleak and ambitious exploration of war tourism, disappointment, loneliness and life as a British expat. The first half of this play is compelling but, as the evening wears on, tensions rise and the laughter is replaced by awkward silences, the audience may be confused and a little uncomfortable.
The audience is welcomed into April’s Bed & Breakfast and is invited to sit in a circle of armchairs, sofas and kitchen chairs that surround the stage area and essentially feels like part of the set. The stage area is set up to resemble a vintage living room, and this is effective because the intimacy of the seating and proximity to the actors makes it feel as though we are almost part of the play.
This intimate setting effectively highlights the claustrophobia, forced social niceties and underlying tension that the three characters feel for each other. The scene changes, which are highlighted by twilight and sheep noises, effectively set the scenes and shows how isolated April’s B&B really is.
Spring Offensive highlights a number of important questions. Is it really appropriate to sell chocolate shaped helmets in the same location where millions of teenagers died? Should we glorify or condemn the First World War?
The conversations between Pam, a shy but subtly clever woman who despite her superior intellect seems to be the doormat of the group, and Tom, whose love for the army and old school misogyny is entertaining, if a little overdone, are among the highlights of the night. The poetry is an especially nice touch, which not only adds to the intelligence of the play but also helps highlight that the soldiers were, in fact, real people.
One of the central themes of this play is April’s attempts strive for attention, have ‘fun’, and feel viable at an older age. This is an important topic, but it may have been more effective if it is made clear how old the character is meant to be. As the play goes on and April becomes more and more unstable, it starts to feel a little uncomfortable, not because of the subject matter in itself, but because it seems very sudden.
We know there are underlying tensions, but while the very notion of living in a secluded house surrounded by dead soldiers, graves and sheep is enough to drive anyone off the rails, the jump from a fairly uncomfortable dinner party to the character essentially having a mental breakdown on stage just seems a little poorly executed. Actress Victoria Willing does a good job with the material she has, but it is hard to act convincingly when the story itself becomes unconvincing.
Spring Offensive invites us into an uncomfortable world of forced British civility, underlying tension, class-ism, disappointment later in life, misogyny, and war. The intentions are commendable, but the execution was not convincing enough to be truly effective.
Runs until 30 April 2017 | Image: peterjones.photography