With the 70th anniversary of the Blitz somewhere in the forefront of British minds, this tour for the stage version of Nina Bawden’s novel seems particularly appropriate. Emma Reeves’s adaptation has required a large cast, some good singing voices – we are after all in rural Wales – and a flexible use by director Andrew Loudon of Edward Lipscomb’s multi-level set.
There are some very good performances, so that the stage convention of adult actors playing quite young children seems perfectly natural as (30 years later) the grown-up Carrie revisits the village to which she and her brother were evacuated and then (with the actor playing her son doubling as her young brother Nick) translates into the young girl sent away from home so suddenly. Sarah Edwardson and James Byng are both excellent at both ages.
A heartbreaking study of a young man whose distorted body is so erroneously taken to indicate a fractured mind is provided by James Beddard as Mr Johnny. Councillor and shop-keeper Mr Evans is in one sense a caricature of a typical small-town bully, but Siôn Tudor Owen makes him credible. His put-upon sister is moving in Hannah Waterman’s portrayal and there’s a very good characterisation of the Gotobed’s housekeeper Hepzibah Green by Lorna Gayle. Egg-head Albert is correctly played by Antony Eden as impatiently anti-social.
Both the book and the play put a world of great confusion in front of us. With hindsight we know that the Second World War ended in Allied victory, that old social structures would crumble in the same haphazard fashion as buildings did during the Blitz, that the past – however vivid – can only be reconstructed in memory and that only in part. But, whatever your age group, you will be drawn into a world where anything might happen and only the unexpected does.