Theatre Reviews

York Theatre Royal Fri 5 -Sat 27 October 2012  presents The Guinea Pig Club written by Susan Watkins.   Review by Eve Winterburn

Photo by Karl Andre Photography
Bold and brash a play of conflicts and surprises with touches of humour and the spirit of war time, The Guinea Pig Club written by Susan Watkins lands at York Theatre Royal deftly directed by Damian Cruden and warmly received by Wednesdays audience.
A thought provoking play which transports the audience back in time to world war two and the forgotten air force burn victims. Life for these burned and injured men is not pretty as social outcasts they feel they have nothing to lose and put their trust in McIndoe a consultant plastic surgeon.
Tensions run high as McIndoe's methods bring conflict to staff and service men. In this moment life is in limbo and the men find ways to cope often with poignant humour which weaves through the play.
 The play opens as McIndoe explains his life and aspirations, played by Graham Hawley with swaggering arrogance as he takes control of the ward and the lives of people around him. Archibald McIndoe wins over the nurses and Graeme Hawley the audience in his performance as consultant.
The service men are revealed in their beds in ward 111 and the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy peeping out of the covers sends a ripple of laughter throughout the audience. Tom the ventriloquist has his own way of coping with the ridicule of his situation. Played by George Ure self effacing, as Tom with complex emotions expressed through humour.
Enter new patient Nick played wretched and defeated by Rollo Skinner, not wanting to live with disfigurement. Mutilated hands and face make him want to kill himself and reject his family. As the play progresses Nic accepts the treatment, and develops a relationship with nurse Alice Harwood played dutifully by Anna O Grady. The relationship grows in spite of Nick's alarming and realistic appearance, courtesy of Steve Outwaite (Prosthetics).
Emotions run high when Nic learns that nurse Harwood was part of the treatment. Nic feels betrayed. He confronts McIndoe and tensions rise as a fight breaks out between them. Fellow patients stare in disbelief, their startled expressions picked out and frozen in the light, lighting designer Richard G Jones captures the scene to great effect. In a realistic scene choreographed by Liam Evans Ford, McIndoe is thrown to the ground raising a gasp from the audience.
Moments later the flamboyant singer Frances Day played pouting and flamboyant by Sarah Applewood swept on to the stage all lipstick and silk, a vision of 1940’s loveliness and a perfect juxtaposition to the dreary ward as she sang fulsomely and resonant through powerful evocative  wartime songs.
The audience roared with laughter as Frances hopped across the stage singing the song ‘Run Rabbit’ Frances sang at each scene change bringing a feeling of wartime resistance, of spirits up in face of adversity. The choice of songs by musical director and arranger Christopher Madin, captured the character of the times and the live for today attitude of wartime  Britain.
Every so often through the play an aircraft rumbles overhead and bombs drop all around. Sound designer John Leonard impacts realism and reminds us of the war that brought these people together and shaped their lives.
Bold and brash soft and touching the complexities of relationships under the shroud of war is explored. Susan Watkins steers us through the story showing us that the choices people make in life can take unexpected turns. This is a great play come and see it.

Eve Winterburn

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