The Customs House, South Shields

Date Reviewed: 4 February 2010

The Machine Gunners might, on the cover, sounds like a story of soldiers armed with weapons, but this poignant tale is much much more.

Based on the book by Robert Westall, an intertwining tale unfolds of old and young as they prepare for what seems like an inevitable Nazi invasion. The 1940’s bickering, bullying class of teenagers hear of a German plane having landed near their fictitious North East town of Garmouth. Chaz, played by the energetic rising acting star, James Baxter, immediately wants to go on a quest to find more shrapnel to add to his collection. But upon finding a machine gun at the crash site, he decides its time for him, and his friends, to prepare themselves for war.

Chaz’s father (played by Neil Armstrong) and the Home Guard however are worrying the war might not be won and his wife’s concern (Tracy Gillman) is not only for her son and husband, but for the safety of her life insurance documents as well as catching up with the gossip from Mrs Spalding (Annie Orwin).

Baxter leads the young cast well, with his boyish looks and keen stage presence, he grows from an immature young boy to a war hungry young man keen to show he can defend his country.

Wayne Miller’s performance as Hitler called for something extra and he duly delivers.

With musical numbers weaved into the story, each interlude of song adds to the charm of the production.

The performances of Jamie Hannon (Nicky) and Jamie Brown (Rudi) as Nicky and Rudi stand out with their impressive solos of songs “Miss You” and “He Will Need You”. Hannon plays Nicky with the delicacy required to demonstrate his fragility after losing both parents to the war.

Other musical highlights include Donald McBride as the schoolmaster and his class, in “Englishman” and an excellent Annie Orwin’s proclamation by Mrs Spalding that she mostly certainly is not the town’s chief gossiper in “Gossip”.

With a perfect blend of comedy, drama and song, The Machine Gunners is a touching drama of war, friendship and loss - a delight to watch.