A/V Room









Malleson's Forgotten Tales of The Great War make for an evening not to be missed

Review by Paul Nelson

AN EVENING at The Pleasance that must not be missed is Forgotten Voices from the Great War, a compilation of three plays about that awful event written by an English writer/actor and a German.

The English writer, Miles Malleson, is no stranger to me. I saw him on stage, and cheered, I saw him on film, and marvelled.

His plays, though, have been cocooned and kept from me until now, and I cheer again.

The German writer, Ernst Johannsen, whose name sounds more Scandinavian than Teutonic, fared a lot worse than Malleson, in that this particular play was banned in the emerging Nazi Germany, presumably because it portrays that war for primarily a country's cause, and not a humanitarian one, is worthless and in addition, the Germans lost.

To my mind, as a socialist, a certain person in Downing Street ought to take notice of this.

Back to the theatrical event.

'D' Company, by Miles Malleson, is a splendid study, splendidly directed, of men waiting to know whether or not they are going on leave or are going to the front.

The crucible they are in is searing and gave me, as an ex-serviceman, the heebie-jeebies, not to know what your future holds, and not having any control of it seriously focuses your mind.

Just before the decision as to whether they are going on leave or to the trenches, Alf learns that his brother, Tom, has been killed in action. He also gets a letter from his wife with trivial, but oh so important messages, such as his little boy, (Alfie), is thriving and the baby has a cold.

The letter from his mother, who knows Tom has died, is a cry from the heart for him not to go to the front.

The wiliness of Malleson, whose adaptations of Moliere plays starring himself are legend, gets all this information across by the simple ruse that Alf is virtually illiterate and his letters are read to him by another soldier, Dennis, who is educated.

The fascination of how to reply to the letters, willingly offered by the erudite Dennis (excellently played by Neil Ditt) to be his scribe, provides most of the poignancy and drama in this too short play. It is superbly acted and the direction sublime.

Brigade Exchange is a German view of futility, and because it shows the Germans in a weak light and definitely being defeated, was not surprisingly banned by the Germans (Nazis?) in the early 1930s.

It takes place in a bunker, where there is a field telephone exchange and the events of the war being lost are transmitted by a series of telephone calls and the odd entrance of various soldiers hiding from the shells that are screaming about all over the place.

There is an explosion roughly about every three minutes and one gets a little bemused, if not confused, as they explode.

Once again, it is a play which, as I have mentioned earlier, when you get to the point where you can no further go, just pull the pin and blow everything up. The play is unsatisfactory.

It is not helped by its director, who cannot it seems resist the odd bang.

Back to Malleson. The third play, Black 'Ell, poses the problem of a man, Harold, who has done but his duty at the front and, having seen death and true bravery at first hand, is about to get a citation for what he thinks is due to his comrades. This he cannot stomach.

The play produces some beautiful performances; the parents, Mrs Gould (Patience Tomlinson) and Mr Gould (Jeffrey Perry (quite excellent in all three plays by the way), who are delighted he has returned safe and is to be awarded; Ethel, the maid (Emma Callander), who is aware she could lose her young man before they have even had a chance at a relationship, and the effervescent Margery Willis, gushingly portrayed by Lorna Doyle.

Unfortunately, the play, as with the immediately previous play, once more suffers from its careless direction.

Poor Harold enters totally overwrought by his experience at the front, and the trouble is he cannot get any more wrought.

It is a dreadful mistake to allow an otherwise excellent actor to go to a top 'C' on his entrance and then expect him to build on it. To be fair, the actor does it well, but in this case, his is a lost cause.

The plays, however, do stand up to any amount of scrutiny and I can thoroughly recommend them as a really good evening out in the theatre. Phone for performance times, they vary alarmingly.

Forgotten Voices From the Great War.
'D' Company by Miles Malleson, Directed by Ian Talbot. WITH: Leo Conville (Private Alf Tibbutt), Simon Spencer-Hyde (Private Tilley), Peter Symonds (Orderly Corporal), Daniel Weyman (Private Jim Penley), Jeffrey Perry (Corporal Charles Joyner), Neil Ditt (Private Dennis Garside).
Brigade Exchange by Ernst Johannsen (in a new version by Rob Young), Directed by Tricia Thorns. WITH: Peter Symonds (Private Schmidt), Neil Ditt (Private Muller), Daniel Weyman (Private Schneider), Jeffrey Perry (Corporal), Simon Spencer-Hyde (Sergeant Major Kramer), Leo Conville (Private Behncke), Lindsay Carr (Sedan Exchange Operator), Neil Ditt (Lieutenant von Zitsowitz), Lorna Doyle (Hospital Operator), Patience Tomlinson (Sister Erna), Peter Symonds ((Divisional Commander), Simon Spencer-Hyde (Private Hinrichsen), Emma Callander (French Prisoner), Jeffrey Perry (Private Hansen), Leo Conville (Captain Jensen).
Black 'Ell by Miles Malleson, Directed by Tricia Thorns. WITH: Patience Tomlinson (Mrs Gould), Jeffrey Perry (Mr Gould), Emma Callander (Ethel), Peter Symonds (Colonel Fane), Lindsay Carr (Jean), Lorna Doyle (Margery Willis), Daniel Weyman (Harold).
Designer Christopher Richardson, Lighting Designer David Lawrence, Sound Designer Kay Basson, Produced by Graham Cowley. Presented by Two's Company and The Pleasance Festival Theatre at The Pleasance, Carpenters Mews, North Road, London N7. Tickets 020 7609 1800 or

# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z