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Winston On The Run (tour - Hawthorne Theatre)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Freddie Machin as Churchill
A year ago, on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Freddie Machin and John Walton premiered a one-man show based on Winston Churchill's autobiography "My Early Life". Churchill, of course, is one of the 20th century's most iconic, sometimes controversial, characters but – and this is one of the things which the play makes clear – he was born and came to manhood in the 19th century, a true Victorian.

Projected onto a stage bare of anything but a blanket, a tea-chest and a bucket, Hari Chambers' soundscape creates the coal-mine deep under the South African veldt where Churchill, combative war correspondent recently escaped from the Boer prison to which he has been confined after capture, awaits the men who have promised to aid him. Rats and other small mammals rustle, the half-mined seams shift and groan, help seems far away.

Machin projects both the gung-ho certainties of a young gentleman born into the upper echelons of power and politics and the bi-polar mood swings of a son who never was able to in his father's approval or affection, who failed abysmally in his first attempt to enter Parliament and now is dependent wholly on strangers for any future other than that of a firing squad.

At the same time, you hope that the outcome will be successful (alright, you know that it will be because that's what history has taught us) and still have sympathy for anyone who has found himself both brushed aside and caught up in this maverick's progress. If theatre involves the willing suspension of disbelief, Machin manages that to a high degree.

I'm not usually a fan of post- or pre-show discussions; a piece of theatre should, like good wine, need no bush. The one which followed "Winston On The Run" is however a model of its kind with both Machin and Walton dissecting how a book becomes a play with characters elided, the historical background accurately touched in, and also the amount of research as well as understanding which has gone into the project.