“The sheep are closing in”
Victoria Willing’s Spring Offensive is a spikily fresh take on the First World War and its enduring legacy, a bold move for the Clapham Omnibus and one which does pay some dividends. The theatre has been transformed into April’s Bed and Breakfast, ‘the best on the Somme’ it would have you believe, and Grace Smart’s clever design of cosy but threadbare furnishings instantly lets you know this is a somewhat idle boast.
Expat April has spent more than 20 years in Northern France, having identified her niche and capitalising on the never-ending stream of tourists who visit the battlefields of the Somme to pay their respects. Familiarity has bred contempt though and as the customers have disappeared, her frustrations have turned onto two long-term guests of her establishment, Tom and Pam, and things finally bubble over the course of a long spring evening, a Spring Awakening if you will…
There’s a brutal blackness to the comedy in Willing’s writing that is quite something to behold, a desperation to these three lost souls who cling to each other simply because there’s no-one else and despite the scathing nature of Willing’s own April, unable to cope without them, barely able to tolerate them. Her plotting teases interestingly at issues of mental health and roles for older women in society and could push even further than it does.
The play’s central theme ends up emerging as the way in which we commemorate WWI, whether it can or should be exploited for commercial gain, whether history has even recorded it accurately in the desire to appear victorious. Here, there’s much that is fascinating food for thought and the clashes between Tony Turner’s Falklands vet and Maggie Daniels’ photographer are well directed by Marie McCarthy. Spring Offensive’s overall impact might pack a stronger emotional wallop if April’s issues were further explored and better integrated but it still remains an admirably quirky way of looking at how we relate to the Great War.