22nd July 2006 - Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 3EU
A touch of nostalgic glamour has arrived in town. It’s Alan Plater’s remarkably evocative imagining of a night in 1943 when an all-girl swing band are hurriedly auditioning new members in time to make their BBC debut later that evening. And so arrive a motley crew: naïve schoolgirl Elizabeth (Karen Paullada), cheerful nun, Lily (Claire Storey), posh Miranda from the military (Rosie Jenkins) and drummer Patrick (Chris Grahamson). Yes, a man somehow works himself into the all-female troupe.
Patrick is, of course, attacked by the others for being a ‘spineless coward’ for not joining the wartime effort, but is able to hold his own with the girls and, in doing so, gives the young and naïve Elizabeth her first tasting of a sexual education.
Plater’s women, who call themselves the Valentinos, recreate a bygone era, and judging by Hampstead’s audiences are enjoyed by all ages. This really is a show you can take your granny to and it is unlikely that she will necessarily have the better time.
Originally commissioned by the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Blonde Bombshells of 1943 was first presented on the Quarry Stage in April 2004 and subsequently at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton this June. Mark Babych’s entertaining production will leave you wanting to karoke to songs of that time. This is, of course, helped by a brilliant largely female cast who play their parts and music passionately. Added to this it is an extraordinary treat for the Hampstead Theatre to present live music on its stage and its cast recreate the songs of the forties – Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller and swing – with enthusiasm aplenty.
Libby Watson’s set is evocative of wartime Britain and this really comes into the fore in the second act when the band arrive and play on stage in shimmering red dresses and blonde wigs. Although the play’s structure is weak and its dialogue is often predictable, Plater’s story – undeniably a tribute to the sort of band pioneered by legend Ivy Benson – played by an exceptional cast is a welcome tonic.
Playwright: Alan Plater
Director: Mark Babych