PRIVATE RESISTANCE: PublicReviews.com
Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might. So proclaims the Ministry of Information poster that forms the backdrop for Private Resistance. For an extended family in 1940 rural Essex the peril is all too real, the horrors of war are coming close to home and, once Hitler's forces have invaded, their way of life will never be the same again.
Ivan Cutting's script may be a fascinating ‘What If' scenario but it's a scenario that Churchill took seriously, setting up a network of Auxiliary Units hidden across the country to disrupt an invasion force advance. Bunkers were dug, weapons and stores hidden and a network of cells recruited, never knowing who else was in the organisation.
In reality such units were never needed and details of their operation still remain somewhat shrouded in the secrecy of government. Cutting's script looks at one such cell and the psychological pressures the units and their families would actually face in the event Hitler had invaded.
Despite her husband being imprisoned in a German Prisoner of War camp, Diane is determined to carry with as much normality as possible. Her 15 year old nephew, Wilf, though has ideas of a more active wartime role, something that fellow lodger ATS girl Prue can readily understand. As the war progresses, the plot takes a different track to known history with reports of German troops marching through Essex, groups of men and boys being rounded up and shot as punishment and, even more chilling, the Norwich to London train line being used by ‘cattle truck' trains deporting Jews to Eastern European concentration camps.
The script is peppered with historical detail but at its heart this is the story of the human impact of war and the pressure put on ordinary citizens in extraordinary times to protect their Country and culture. There's a mounting sense of frustration as the months pass, marked on the ever prevalent calendar, and the realisation that, unless decisive action is taken, a whole generation is threatened.
Thirty years after the final liberation of the UK, Diane is invited onto a radio programme to discuss her role in the resistance and we finally get to hear the true sacrifice those villagers made to defend their freedom.
Naomi Jones' production grabs the attention from the outset and doesn't drop the dramatic tension throughout. Details are slowly revealed, much like the Auxiliary Units themselves, on a need to know basis, so we only fully get the full picture at the moving climax. Jones makes great use of Fabrice Serafino's impressive set, effectively revealing hidden secrets throughout.
There are impressive performances throughout the ensemble, all providing period characters that we can still identify with over 70 years on. Matt Addis, Phil Pritchard, Bishanyia Vincent, Fred Lancaster and Frances Marshall all give their respective characters dignity and humanity in the most testing of times.
We may all think we know what we would do if our country is threatened but what would we really do if faced with the challenge - ‘Could you look at people in years to come and say I did nothing'? East Anglia was a prime target for Hitler's invasion plans, Private Resistance and its thought-provoking ‘what if' scenario is a fitting tribute to those unsung heroes who were prepared to risk everything to defend their communities. A moving and uplifting tribute to humanities determination to protect freedom.
PRIVATE RESISTANCE: Whatsonstage.com
What if? is a fascinating game to play. The difficulty comes in making it credible. But that's what Ivan Cutting's new play for Eastern Angles succeeds in doing. The basic premise is a simple one - this country has failed to evacuate its army from Dunkirk in 1940, lost the Battle of Britain, evacuated the government to Canada and is now part of the German Reich (Scotland having become a Vichy-clone. It couldn't possibly have happened? Think again.
I was brought up in Nazi-occupied Jersey, and so many details of Cutting's script and Naomi Jones direction rang truth bells for me - curfews, reprisals, deportations, illegal crystal-sets and that thin fragile tightrope between keeping-head-down conformity and collaboration among them. But here we're in Suffolk, where there really were plans for a guerrilla sabotage movement, as Cutting's research has uncovered.
The action revolves around Diane, whose doctor husband is in a PoW camp, her deceased sister's son Wilf and her other brother-in-law Tom, a retired army officer. He's in charge of the local Auxiliary Unit, to which he's recruited game-keeper Frank. Prue is an ATS wireless operator, billeted on Diane. For teenage Wilf it's all something of a lark. Prue likes to flirt. Their elders, however, know well that this game is one with a particularly unpleasant death as its most likely outcome.
Fabrice Serafino's set is a clever one with an underground bunker lowering the more domestic foreground. And the performances are also very good. Frances Marshall has real dignity as Diane, who survives, and Phil Pritchard is credible both as Frank and his replacement Alan, a man with a not-so-hidden agenda. Fred Lancaster plays eager-puppy Wilf, so brutally tossed into adult concerns and emotions. Tom has a certain ambiguity as well as authority about him, and this comes over clearly in Matt Addis' portrait.
PRIVATE RESISTANCE: The Stage
This is the first Eastern Angles production written by Ivan Cutting which he does not also direct. Instead, Naomi Jones is at the helm for Private Resistance, in which the role of Britain's secret Auxiliary Units - the Home Guard with incendiary bells on - is acknowledged via a hypothetical German invasion in 1940.
Jones' direction brings out some pulsating performances from the five actors involved. If there's a niggle it's that the human, engaging side of the characters they play, and which is developed with such warmth and care by Cutting and Jones in Act I, feels undermined in Act II by a mesh of information-heavy storylines about the politics and conspiracy theories of the time.
What holds the attention is the sheer calibre and precision of the acting in a play where the pace is, necessarily, rarely less than panic-stations.
Scenes are set in a secret underground bunker used by the Auxiliary Units, as well as the kitchen of Diane (Frances Marshall), who has 15-year-old Wilf (Fred Lancaster) and a feisty young servicewoman Prue (Bishanyia Vincent) as lodgers.
Vincent gives an utterly riveting performance, bending convincingly from flirty irritant to Jerry-hating patriot. She and Marshall, whose risk-averse matriarch is finely observed, spar superbly.
Lancaster's schoolboy is something of a Famous Five cliche - and highly entertaining for it - while Phil Pritchard channels his aggression in exactly the right places as injured soldier Frank in Act I and a no-nonsense Communist operative Alan in Act II.
Meanwhile, Matt Addis' character, Tom, seems slightly less well-defined and therefore less engaging than the others, but Addis works impeccably with what he's got. Credit too, to set designer Fabrice Serafino for coming up with a typically evocative less-is-more Eastern Angles creation.
PRIVATE RESISTANCE: Michael Gray's Arts Blog
Still standing, resolutely confronting the invader from the East, pill boxes all across East Anglia. But facing the wrong way, it turned out, when the barge-borne Nazi invasion finally came from the Southern ports. At least that's the alternative future graphically portrayed in Ivan Cutting's new play for Eastern Angles, now embarked on its region-wide tour.
Private Resistance tells the story of the Auxiliary Units, small bands of local men [and boys] who would harass the foe from within, slowing the advance of Operation Sealion, keeping Britain fighting while we waited for the Yanks to finish off Pacific business and ride to our rescue. Civilians, meanwhile, were exhorted to Keep Calm and Carry On, by a poster now ubiquitous. But there were two other slogans, also printed against the possibility of invasion, of which "Freedom Is In Peril, Defend It With All Your Might" is used in Fabrice Serafino's ingenious set design.
This very British guerilla warfare, and the stresses of the Home Front, are cleverly combined in the story of an unconventional extended family. Young Wilf [Fred Lancaster], keen on cricket and cycling, motherless, his father at the front, lives with his aunt [Frances Marshall] whose doctor husband is a POW. Her brother-in-law [Matt Addis] will be the commander of the Unit, and recruits the local gamekeeper [Phil Pritchard]. The war brings two outsiders to the village - Prue [Bishanyia Vincent] a young ATS girl, and Alan, a freedom fighter from up north [Pritchard again] who will galvanize sleepy Suffolk for the May uprising of 1943. The narrative cleverly combines history with conjecture - the cattle trucks from Manchester to Harwich, the Government in Canadian exile, a Vichy independence for Scotland. And details add authenticity - the John Bull printing outfit, the vintage cricket bat, the crystal set. The costumes, too, had a period precision - the schoolboy, the Land Girl, the revolutionary.
Naomi Jones's engaging production tracks the developing characters as the calendar pages turn, with some wonderfully moving moments - the two women giggling at their first encounter, and much later dancing the Beguine. And the pacy panic as uniforms are burnt, the BBC goes off the air [later to re-surface as Free BBC in Manchester], and church bells toll the invasion. Perhaps most effective of all, the six characters recalling their last moments, with evocative word pictures of wheat fields and the wide Suffolk sky. But as the characters observe, it's often looks rather than words that convey our feelings, and it's not always Jerry, it's sometimes us - heartlessly handing over refugees, for instance. But who's to say how we might have acted, in this alternative England, with the enemy at our door.
This gripping drama is an ideal vehicle for sharing a little-known chapter of our history, Churchill's underground units which were never spoken of, even fifty years later. Not many of those resistance fighters, who stood ready in 1940, survive now; soon the few remaining Operational Bases and the pill boxes will be the only witnesses to this very secret war.
REVIEW: Private Resistance - Grapevine Magazine
Review of 'Private Resistance', presented by Eastern Angles by Steve Hawthorne
Expectations can be a dangerous thing. Look forward to something too much and it often disappoints. Being very interested in WW2 history, including the mix of fact and speculation that constitutes the 'What if..?' genre, I had greeted the announcement of Private Resistance, a drama set during a supposed German invasion of Britain in 1940,as this year's Eastern Angles Spring Tour with some excitement. However as the day of the performance drew near I started to think of my own 'what ifs..?
'What if it's historically inaccurate?' 'What if it's full of clichés?' 'What if it's simply preposterous, a hideous combination of Allo, Allo and a Rambo film?' I needn't have worried. The history as it happened is well researched and that which is imagined based upon this research, the clichés such as they exist are well judged and likeable, and it's funnier than Allo, Allo and more exciting than Rambo.
Private Resistance wastes little time in getting going; a brief introduction to the characters and suddenly the Nazi's have landed. From that point the whole of Act 1 is suffused with a sense of urgency which director Naomi Jones deftly keeps just on the right side of frantic. A genuine sense of peril is created, not just by the action but also by the excellent cast who, without exception, seemed entirely of the period and whose jeopardy engages from a very early point. Regular radio bulletins from the BBC punctuate the action, heightening the overbearing feeling of hopelessness and diminishing time. One in particular 'The German's have succeed in crossing the Thames at Dagenham and are now surrounding Chelmsford' actually made me physically shiver; it sounded as though it could have come from a sound archive rather than having been recorded for the play.
This pace and sense of urgency isn't continued into Act 2 which is set in 1944 and whilst that is initially disappointing given the narrative ride we've had during Act 1 a change of tone and the tension which is created whilst we wait for events to unfold allows for more character development and a calmness to settle before the tragic breaking of the storm which has been signalled from the very opening of Act 1. What is perhaps most remarkable about Private Resistance is that it manages to convey action, excitement and a sense of events happening on a grander scale from a set restricted to not much more than a kitchen. I say not much more, there is more, in fact a whole lot more but it is not immediately obvious and I for one had not twigged so that when the reveal occurred, it was a real delight. I triumph of simplicity by set designer Fabrice Serafino.
Remarkable too, given the play's subject matter, is the lack of Germans. Not one jackboot strides onto the stage nor one cod-German accent deliver a clichéd, commando comic derived line. The decision not to write any German characters into the plot is a master stroke by Ivan Cutting and yet their threat hangs over the action and their shadow constantly lurks on the perimeters of the stage. Naomi Jones' direction must again be credited here and the decision by Ivan Cutting, for I believe the first time, not to direct something he has written entirely pays off. Don't be fooled either into thinking that PR is entirely an historical piece; the remarks about the danger to the future of the NHS under the Germans and the contradiction of Tom's early assertion that 'we're all in this together,' with 'no we're not, we're all on our own,' added a lightly subversive note which I entirely enjoyed.
Where PR also differs from previous Spring Tours is in the lack of characters. Usually the cast are charged with playing two, three or even four different parts. This has only occasionally presented a problem but the lack of changes did seem to allow the cast to inhabit the skins of their characters a little more. Only one actor, Phil Pritchard, is forced to play two parts which he does with great distinction between the two. Frances Marshall and Bishanyia Vincent both engage, presenting two different facets of womanhood and two different coping mechanisms; Fred Lancaster's transformation from eager teenager to experienced resistance organiser simply through a change of hairstyle and tone by the actor is very good and the quiet ambiguity in Matt Addis' performance as Tom, organiser of the resistance cell but also local beneficiary of the Nazi occupation was nicely judged and had me believing he would turn out to be a collaborator.
If PR falls down anywhere it is that the finale does not quite pay-off as the emotional crescendo I was hoping for but that did not detract greatly from my enjoyment of it. I was enthralled enough by that point to forgive it almost anything. The final comment belongs to a member of the audience old enough to have lived through the time depicted. At the end of the performance I asked him what he thought. 'I'm not sure what I think about that,' he said, 'that's brought up a lot of stuff.'
Private Resistance, engaging, affecting. Don't resist, go and see it!
The tour continues until 20th May. Go to www.easternangles.co.uk or www.grapevinelive.co.uk for dates and ticket info.
REVIEW: Private Resistance - Eastern Daily Press
What if ...? is a great dramatic starting point. This, the latest from the renowned Eastern Angles celebrating thirty years in the region, is powerful.
What if the Germans had invaded Britain in September 1940? It's now known that secret Auxiliary Units of locals were prepared, some well armed, to go underground as invasion began and strike back, resisting the Nazi advance. That secret army was known only by the chosen participants.
Imagining how the local populace would have fared in the Manningtree area was explored by a talented and versatile cast of just five playing six characters, directed by Naomi Jones in a fast-paced piece of drama that used the space perfectly.
The script, researched and written by Artistic Director Ivan Cutting, captured the period and shaped recognisable characters, as well as finding moments of gallows humour to lighten the life and death seriousness of a war being lost.
The natural mistrust of possible collaborators, constant fear of the jackboot of German reprisals and repression was palpable. There was the sense that over time many English people may have ‘lost their anger' and stopped fighting back against military occupation.
A fascinating East Anglian wartime tribute, it's touring until mid May and worth catching!
PRIVATE RESISTANCE: ReviewsGate
Superbly acted, strongly-written play that's a study in history and a portrait of a society. And a good rattling yarn.
Winston Churchill's underground war rooms weren't alone, according to Ivan Cutting's new play. Expecting an invasion, Churchill organised guerilla Auxiliary Units, based in underground bunkers, across eastern England.
Private Resistance imagines one such Unit's operations. But he goes further. Alongside attacks on the Germans, there's a move from squirearchy to the Welfare State, encapsulated in Phil Pritchard's fine double portrayals of loyal, taciturn estate-worker Frank, in act one, and northern Communist Alan after the interval.
The two acts have a different pace. The first, set in 1940-41, hurtles forward as people respond to the new, unfamiliar occupation. Dates are marked on a calendar as time hurries by, with blood and action.
The second act's properly slower; by 1943 people tensely await a coordinated uprising. Yet Cutting's skilful change of pace and mood maintains attention as the character relationships hurriedly established in the first act are investigated in more depth and the situation makes increased demands on loyalties and expectations.
The script leaves performances to create the period, and, especially, Fabrice Serafino's set, covered in a public service poster, while tactfully pointing to the time's perspective: Dunkirk starts as an unfamiliar place name; later Alan partially understands what happens to the Jews being shipped abroad in cattle-trucks.
Each character steps outside the scene to describe their death. The first surprise, in this wartime play, comes with a reference to the NHS as one young character announces their death aged 85, their insistence on NHS treatment gaining significance as the play unfolds.
The writing is matched by Naomi Jones' direction for Eastern Angles, which maintains the play as action-thriller, while allowing its social implications to develop through five excellent performances. Frances Marshall's cautious householder contrasts Bishanyia Vincent's incoming worker, sexually frank, yet brave as much as brazen, Fred Lancaster shows the development of Wilf from mid-teen innocence to the determination of a late-teen resistance fighter, while Matt Addis is quietly fine as the landowner whose role fades and whose contact with Germans becomes suspect to others.
Exciting as story and social picture, it's a pity these Parham performances signal the tour's end.