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.