Anyone arriving in this country from abroad must find it a strange British anomaly that for one month in the year, theatre suddenly becomes the province of children. For the rest of the year it's as though, with a few honourable exceptions, they don't exist. So, in this season of infant excess, Nina Bawden's Carrie's War comes as a more than pleasant addition.
Coming from the same stable that brought us last year's surprise seasonal hit, Little Women and before that, Anne of Green Gables, Andrew Loudon and Emma Reeves' latest adaptation has the inestimable bonus of appealing to young and old alike – a nostalgic trip for those of a certain age, an absorbing tale of growing up and moral choices for younger spectators.
Children's tales so often exude an irredeemably twee tone as though caught in some calcified time warp of Victorian middle England. Nina Bawden's modern classic does the inestimable service of making her two teenage protagonists disarmingly normal, warts and all.
Set in WWII and based on Bawden's own experiences as an evacuee sent to Wales at the outbreak of war, her yarn is part Dylan Thomas, part Jane Eyre, with a touch of Jean Rhys thrown in. Its major pleasure, though, is decidedly its own: a charm that shines through Loudon's production, encompassed within Edward Lipscomb's economic, cleverly split level design.
Led by Sarah Edwardson's delightful and beguilingly honest Carrie, with Mark Field as her auburn haired, whingeing younger brother, Nick, the greater battle being fought beyond the Welsh valleys takes on a new freshness and added poignancy in their personal `home front' struggle to adjust to the emotional and moral conflicts thrown up by their new surroundings.
More might have been made of the psychological traumas that came to scar many evacuees for the rest of their lives. But this is an outstanding ensemble production.
Hywel Morgan, in a quartet of vastly contrasting roles, is outstanding; as is Sam Crane as a Simon McBurney look-alike and fellow evacuee, Albert Sandwich. Jamie Beddard as Johnny Gotobed underlines Bawden's extraordinarily enlightened messsage, as potent now as when she wrote it.