Clapham Omnibus, London – until 30 April 2017
The Spring Offensive, a so-called charge after the winter snow had thawed on the front lines each year throughout World War One, a final push for the Germans to break allied lines before US reinforcements arrived and turned the tide of battle. Of course, it didn’t work – history tells us that; so does Tom (Tony Turner), as he constantly squabbles with Pam (Maggie Daniels) about the relevance of the war. One side in favour, a way for our troops to do their duty and defend their country, a right to bear arms; the other side seeing nothing but a collection of gravestones that mark the young men and boys who fruitlessly gave their lives. All in a B&B on the Somme, run by April (Victoria Willing), the prize that the opposing sides covet and fight over.
Grace Smart sets the scene in the round, the main room of the B&B where characters fight, laugh and scope each other out, looking for a favourable vantage point and a weakness they can exploit. Audience seats are replaced with car boot style sofas and dining room chairs, mismatched but homely, comfortable and inviting. April invites us all in to experience the World War 1 tribute, a place to eat, sleep and remember the Great War. Aperitifs at 1900, lamb stew at 2000, no double beds and cat shit to be scraped off your shoes. The atmosphere begins with a warming glow, the audience quickly settle in and pleasantly chuckle at the squabbles and quibbles that each character fires at one another. Pam is desperate to please April, a need for approval and a devotion to her extroverted confidence; April is desperate for affection and attention from Tom, the misogynistic man stereotypical of his era. Innuendos abound, a subtle tension softly bubbles underneath the dialogue and there is a dryness to Willing’s script that is believable and affable.
As the hostess with the mostest, April (Willing) needs to snap more readily as Pam’s meddling and intervening. Pam (Daniels) can’t help but interject, a know-it-all that is constantly underfoot in an attempt to please; a greater clash of personalities would break up the lukewarm atmosphere. Then, when the mood does suddenly shift, the transition is too sudden; unexplained, it leaves a confusing aftereffect. One moment April is lustful, then suddenly she exhibits a semi-psychotic breakdown into nursery rhymes, finishing by talking nonsense to the sheep outside. The disorientation at this point in Willing’s performance, as well as in her script, lacks credibility. Even Pam and Tom, who the most part carry their characters with a convincing stance, look confused at each other. The connection starts to break apart.
Spring Offensive for the most part is a pleasant and well put together piece. The ending needs consideration, it seems to get lost in itself; the need to add tension, drama and eventful plot twists overwhelms the writing. But apart from the last few minutes, the production moves along well, develops its characters and prepares them well before sending them to battle each other, albeit not to the death.