Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

One Night in November
by Alan Pollock   directed Colin Lawrence

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge,  April 2016

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A Review of One Night in November
by Chris Shinn

Alan Pollock wrote this play in 2008 and it was re-written a couple of years later. Having grown up in Coventry, it was perhaps only natural that he would be interested in the fate that city suffered during World War two. The play centres on a relationship between Michael, a codebreaker working at Bletchley Park and Katie, a young girl living with her family in Coventry, who aspires to go to Oxford then train to be a teacher.

When Michael discovers that Coventry is to be the target for a bombing raid, he is torn between secrecy and warning the love of his life. The fact that the top brass seem reluctant to even warn the occupants of that city of their impending doom serves only to increase his frustration.

The play calls for several settings and these were well depicted. The main set of the kitchen/parlour of Katie's house complete with stairs and appropriate props, furniture and even an upright piano placed on a raised area upstage, with downstage used as Michael's office, the station and various other locations in and around Coventry. There were also occasionally facts and photographs projected onto a back screen. I wasn't sure that these added a great deal; I felt that if it was going to be used at all, a video perhaps of Bletchley Park and Coventry in the bombing would possibly have had more impact.

The play calls for a cast of fifteen, with parts ranging from quite large to very small. It says a lot for the reputation of amateur theatre around Cambridge that people capable of leading roles are quite content to feature for just a few lines, as was the case here. Consequently, the acting throughout was of a good standard. Jonathan Totman and Helen Holgate gave good, believable performances as Michael Green and Katie Stanley. These were ably supported by David Foyle, Tricia Peroni and Sarah Middle as Katie's father Jack, mother Margaret and sister Joanie. Peter Simmons made much of the part of air raid warden friend of the family Ken Widdows. I particularly liked the scene between Ken and Jack when they were sharing a drink after the raid. Likewise there were some nice moments between Michael and his work colleague Sheila Arbuthnot, a nicely judged portrayal by Lindsey McAuley. There was further good support from Nick Warburton as John Martin Churchill's personal secretary and Barry Brown as Ronald Cave one of the top brass at Bletchley Park. Martin George (Policeman), Ken Eason (AFS Man), Isabel Rees (Hilde Chambers), Rory Lowings (Peter), Mike Milne (Herbert Morrison) and Cathy McCluskey (Nurse) made up the rest of the cast with the aforementioned minor roles, each adding quality to the overall picture.

The lighting and sound effects were good throughout, particularly the depiction of the air raid. I felt it was akin to being in a wartime experience museum with searchlights, flashes and explosions throughout the auditorium. There was some surprise when, after this the stage lights came up to reveal Katie's house now in ruins, with her sister and mother trapped inside.

Full marks to Cathy McCluskey's set design, Tony Broscomb and the Lolworth team who constructed it and the Penguin Club backstage who did the transformation. It certainly had the desired effect.  The costumes and makeup were all very good. So, with good acting, set, sound, lighting, costumes, props and makeup I couldn't quite understand why I left the theatre
slightly disappointed. I have since come to the conclusion that it must have been the script itself which, particularly in act one I found to be quite bitty. The numerous, sometimes very short scenes made for quite a disjointed affair.

I notice from the programme that the author has written three radio plays: perhaps this one would have been better suited to that medium. Having read the synopsis of the play, I felt that despite the considerable efforts of BAWDS and director Colin Lawrence, the company were let down by a script that failed to plug the gaps in the background to the story of the bombing of Coventry and for me that was a great shame.