By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHEN?: Saturday 6 August (evening), booking until 28 August 2022 RUNTIME: 150 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
The authors of Tom, Dick and Harry visited the National Archives in London to find the documentation surrounding the World War Two escape from Stalag Luft III best known perhaps as 1963 film The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.
- Read on for reasons including how your reviewer lent a hand and had a ball with several elements of audience participation
They used these first-hand accounts to bring us a humourous take on this beloved tale in which minimal audience participation is encouraged although not embarassingly obligatory.
We say this as a member of the front row in this imaginitely realised production in the round who found himself with a light shined upon him at 1 point with a voiceover describing him as 1 of the budding escapees and at another point called upon later to ingeniously whittle a tool to enable the tunnelling.
It was the running gags that we most enjoyed during this piece not least the switch that flicked the language from German to English but also the gentle bullying of 1 of the more manic guards who it was insisted needed to open and close the imaginary door to his boss’s office.
Stalag III was blessed with a fully-fitted theatre because those in charge of the camp wanted the emphasis to be on escapism on a stage rather than for an escape to be staged.
We absolutely loved how 4 of the cast dragged up as women (see main picture) to entertain their fellow inmates as well as the guards and the idea that this freedom allowed them to imagine what it might be like to be in the company of women again is beautifully explored.
A confession: we’re huge fans of the Greenwich Theatre pantomime which Pollard (pictured in character below) writes and stars in and here he shows a completely different strength.
He plays 2 main roles: the fair-minded camp commandant Lederman as well as the serial but also many times failed escapee Wings as well as co-writing with director Theresa Heskins and fellow cast member Michael Hugo.
What our historian authors have uncovered is that there was a great deal of international co-operation in this great escape and the creation of the titular tunnels. The latter 2 members of the cast we mention above have a touching moment about their physical appearance and whether they would be safer behind the wire in the camp rather than attempting escape outside in a divided Europe.
Special mention to Perry Moore for his fabulous fashion face-pulling during the runway sequences as the escapees’ clothing requirements are addressed.
Both the aforementioned Michael Hugo and David Fairs as Giesler bring some much-needed humanity to the German guards proving that they were not all bad.
Finally, the tunnelling scenes on trollies as the escapees make their bursts for freedom are realised thrillingly.
The shabby chic of the Alexandra Palace Theatre and the site’s own communications history make this the perfect venue for this re-imagining of a story that tells us a great deal more about ourselves than we thought we knew.
- Main pictures by Facebook courtesy Alexandra Palace Theatre Tickets
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