1939-45 is one of those periods which brand deep into nations’ consciousness. It’s studied as part of schools’ curriculum by today’s younger generation, but is also alive for those who lived through it. This one-man show by Nicholas Collett is the story of a pilot for whom the Battle of Britain was in so many ways his finest hour. At the start of the new millennium, Peter is in a residential home, his wife and many of his former comrades are dead, and he is estranged from his one daughter.
For this new UK tour, following performances in Adelaide, the emphasis in Gavin Robertson’s production falls equally on the man and on his times. There’s an effective use of black-and-white documentary film to show the reality of the lead-up to war and its ensuing tragedies – all those young lives lost – while the acting area has simply an armchair, a table prepared with condiments and another, less comfortable chair.
Collett switches from gamy-legged pensioner to his much younger self, from the brash Australian detective Peter hires to trace his daughter and the upper-crust squadron leader to the grand-daughter who so suddenly visits him – all with the doff of a cap or jacket, some well-chosen accents and the use of a cane.
The visit to a school as a species of living history makes some good points and Peter’s natural reluctance to embrace this never-heard-of-before relation from Down Under rings true. It works as a piece of theatre, because Collett has done his research and writes well – not to mention being a good actor. One would hope that, even in these days of school-trip cut-backs, those studying the period will be encouraged to see Spitfire Solo.