From the Nina Bawden book of the same name, Carrie’s War is the latest play to open at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Telling the story of a sister and brother who are evacuated to Wales during the Second World War, they get swept up in a Gothic world of ghosts, curses, and skulls and when the intrigues of the family with whom they are billeted spill into their lives, decisions are made which haunt Carrie well into adulthood.
It is quite a gentle production, but I do not mean that in a patronising way. It really reminded me of the kind of dramas one used to get on a Sunday afternoon on the BBC, like Tom’s Midnight Garden, Moondial and The Railway Children. This is enhanced by the fact that the 15 characters are played by just 9 actors, so there is a little exaggeration of characterisation, especially with the local yokel types, but not to any negative effect.
Sarah Edmondson is excellent, very convincing as both the older and the younger Carrie, and she has great chemistry with John Heffernan as Albert Sandwich, her fellow evacuee in the village. Prunella Scales is good as a ghostly Miss Haversham-like aunt, and Kacey Ainsworth exudes real warmth (and a great Welsh accent) as the kindly Aunty Lou who takes in Carrie and her brother.
The set is quite compact, but both of the houses look very effective, and the space inbetween becomes very evocative of a battlefield at times, which never lets us forget this is a wartime piece. But my favourite innovation is the constant use of Welsh hymns and songs, performed live by the cast, which provide a fantastic sense of atmosphere.
Carrie’s War is quite a curious piece: I was totally enchanted by it and really enjoyed the nostalgia it evoked, both of the time and my own childhood. And the message it carries (no pun intended) is really quite a good one, about how we are all human and make mistakes, and it is never to late to atone for them. For people, in particular children, who are new to the material, I wonder if it might not prove a little too old-fashioned for them, although it would surely be a shame if they were to choose going to see the new Transformers film over this.