Ever heard of a Tea Dance? During World War II, these wholesome afternoon or evening dances were popular ways of boosting morale for servicemen and small communities. They were mainly organised by the local churches and the Red Cross, and hostesses were hired to make some (butter-free? egg-free?) cakes, play some Vera Lynn and have a dance with the boys that were heading off to fight The Hun. This is where we find ourselves in Think of England.
If you’re going to use a Tea Dance as the setting for an immersive play, you can’t get much better than an underground space that would make a perfect air raid shelter. Theatre company Anonymous is a Woman has transformed one of the amazing subterranean performance spots at Vaults, the graffiti-filled caverns under Waterloo station, into a gorgeously lit brick shelter.
The Vault Festival is giving London no excuse for boredom as they offer a programme full of comedy, weirdness, experimental sketch, magic shows and immersive theatre, such as a dark musical take on Peter Pan, NeverLand, and this trip to the 1940s, Think of England.
Wistful Bette (Leila Sykes) and ballsy Vera (Madeline Gould) are your hostesses, touring the country on the government payroll and doing their bit to boost morale through music, dancing and raffles for luxuries like oranges. While the sirens and booms are heard above the cold stone ceiling, they set out to make things cheerful and fun for the assembled crowd, and for the handsome soldiers that wander in in search of a dance. Are their motivations purely patriotic? Are these Canadians as upright and nice as they seem? Does war bring out the worst in people or the best? Am I going to really win that orange?
You’re going to have to have an opinion on these pressing matters because you, too, are their guests at the Tea Dance. Don’t worry, you won’t be required to do much – you can stay in your seat and nod sagely in response to Vera’s questions, maybe help hold up some patriotic bunting, you don’t have to “immerse”. Or you can sing along, get out of your seat and jive, and choose sides as the drama and revelations unfurl along with the Union Jacks.
Review: Think of England at Vault Festival 2018
This piece, written by the fantastic Madeline Gould and directed with sensitivity by Tilly Branson, is based on real wartime scandals. The five person ensemble – Pip Bragnall, Matthew Biddulph and Stefan Menaul are the RAF men – is uniformly great and even the Canadian accents pass muster. Their enthusiasm will keep you going as the plots meanders just a wee bit towards the end of the no-intermission two hour running length.
The expectations and arguments that this supposedly just-for-fun dance stir up are like ones that sometimes happen at real life parties; everyone has to chime in and then everyone gets shouty and repetitive, you can kind of see both sides and then someone does something uniquely stupid and then… ahh, it’s getting late. Let’s just go home. Except you can’t, because instead of missing the last train, there is an air raid siren letting you know the world is burning and you’re stuck.
Lie back and enjoy
Other chances to see Think of England
Thursday 15th Feb, 2pm Horden Youth & Community Centre SR8 4LH.
Friday 16th Feb, 8pm Weedon Old School Room, NN12
Saturday 17th Feb, 7:30pm All Saints Church, Allhallows ME3 9PE
Thursday 22nd, 7:30 TBC The Roebuck Inn, BN8 6BG
Friday, 23rd, 2pm The Alexander Centre, ME13
Saturday 24th 7:30pm Bredhurst Village Hall, ME7
Sunday 25th, 5:30pm Wivelsfield Village Hall, RH17
Wednesday 28th, 7:30pm Bishampton Villages Hall, WR10 2LY
Thursday 1st, 7:30pm Great Longstone Village Hall, DE45 1TB
Friday 2nd, 7:30pm Heightington Village Hall, DY12 2XU
Saturday 3rd, 7:30pm Stretton on Dunsmore Village Hall, CV23 9NA
Sunday 4th, 7:30pm Kineton Sports & Social Club, CV35 0JT
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