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 The Theatreguide.London Review

We Happy Few
Gielgud Theatre      Summer 2004

Actress Imogen Stubbs has written a lovely school pageant, and I can imagine girls' schools up and down the country producing it to great success.

Whether it belongs in the West End is another matter.

Inspired by a true story, Stubbs has written a fictional account of a small troupe of amateur actresses who toured Britain during the Second World War, performing Shakespeare - including all the male roles in schools, church halls and the like.

So Stubbs gives us amusing scenes of the founding, the auditions, the wheedling money out of the government, the rehearsals and performances. And along with this mainly comic material - perhaps too comic, since she gives the troupe a bit too much of the Pyramus and Thisbe-style incompetence to be believable - there are attempts at more serious touches.

Predictably, there's a lot of more serious emotional matter going on behind the scenes - a frustrated romance or two, an onstage death and some offstage ones.

Each of the women gets a nice juicy monologue in which she describes some heartbreak of the past - a doomed romance, a dead brother, and the like.

When you spot one of the women using her spare moments to write to a soldier, you don't have to work real hard to guess what news is going to come about him just at the most heart-rending moment.

And that totally unoriginal and by-the-numbers soap opera stuff eventually drags the play down, killing any of the fun of the lighter scenes and reducing the characters to such stereotypes that we just can't care about them.

A cast of admirable and attractive actresses do their best, but are eventually defeated by the material. As the group leader, Juliet Stevenson is reduced to little more than barking orders in public and weeping in private, and even the sight of her in a fake beard playing Macbeth doesn't brighten things much.

It is nice to see Marcia Warren, as Stevenson's chief support, playing a character with a little more grit than the dithering birdbrains she normally specialises in; and Kate O'Mara as a wisecracking old pro and Patsy Palmer as a tomboy add some life to the proceedings.

Trevor Nunn (Mr. Imogen Stubbs) directs with husbandly dutifulness, but the pacing drags, the movement of sets and actors is clumsy, and whatever brief flashes of life appear from time to time are too soon allowed to die out.

Wait until your daughter's school does this in a year or two, and you have more reason than is offered here for your attendance and applause.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of We Happy Few - Gielgud Theatre 2004

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