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Three Days in May (tour – Cambridge)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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In many ways Ben Brown’s play Three Days in May is an old-fashioned one. People talk – they talk a great deal. Momentous events occur – but they happen off-stage. The stage itself is dominated by a long table facing the audience squarely with chairs behind it and backed by a map of Europe disintegrating under the relentless march of Hitler’s battalions from the Baltic to the Atlantic.

The three 1940 days in question are the time when Britain “wobbled” before the likelihood of extinction. Newly appointed prime minister Winston Churchill has to meld the defeatism of some of his Cabinet colleagues and his equally newly-appointed French counterpart with military reality and his own invincible determination to fight on – whatever the odds. 1940 is now 70 years in the past; a playwright can explore its shades of grey as well as the black and the white.

Warren Clarke gives us the bulldog Churchill in full measure; itt’s a very well composed portrait. He’s matched by Jeremy Clyde as Lord Halifax and, in an exchange which stops the whole thing being slightly waxwork and turns it into real drama, Robert Demeger as Neville Chamberlain. James Alper as Churchill’s young secretary coaxes us all into being willing eavesdroppers at 10 Downing Street with his initial ”Hello. I’m Jock Colville – and I’m dead”.

As the forthright Labour MP from Yorkshire Arthur Greenwood and bespectacled Clement Attlee, Dicken Ashworth and Michael Sheldon sketch in their characters lightly but with a certain assurance. Alan Strachan’s authoritative direction fails to disguise the essential static quality of the piece. It’s history, but history in monochrome, not full colour.


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