Friend Or Foe, by Scamp Theatre,at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Thursday, October 13 and Friday, October 14
AFTER meeting “Joey”, the magnificent horse puppet at Highclere Castle’s Heroes at Highclere event on Sunday, I am more inspired than ever to save up the pennies and myself up to the West End to see the London production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. But in the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the plethora of touring productions based on Morpurgo’s many other children’s books, using the excuse that they’re good for George’s cultural education (although on this occasion he was unable to make it, so I took a rather older, hairier stand-in boy along to The Corn Exchange).
Written specifically to fit in with the National Curriculum Key Stage 2 topic of Second World War evacuees, Friend Or Foe tells the story of two London boys evacuated to a Devon farm, who find that they haven’t entirely left the Blitz behind when they spot a German bomber crash landing on the moor near their new home.
On a sharply raked stage (which, it was later revealed in a post-performance actors’ talk, played havoc with their calf muscles in rehearsal) designed to represent, not the expected countryside setting but a bombed house back in London, the boys told the story of their discovery of the surviving German airmen, and the changes it brought about of their views about “the enemy”.
Having worked with a movement director to use the set to its full advantage, including a beautifully-lit near-drowning scene inciting a heart-in-mouth response, the five-strong cast worked incredibly hard to pare down the complex to the elegantly simple. As well as the paring of the novel’s story to a manageable one-act stage play, the three actors playing the adults in the boys’ lives coped excellently with the many quick changes required, not only of costume but also accents (and sometimes language) and characterisation; from a curmudgeonly farmer to a half-starved German pilot, and from a widowed mother to a chain-smoking no-nonsense teacher.
The busy feel to this piece contrasts with the starkness of Scamp Theatre’s one-man production of Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful, but it is nevertheless another engaging production in which the warmth of Morpurgo’s words shines through, and one which works on many levels for young audiences, from the power of the touching story to the questions it elicits about the experiences of children in wartime.
* First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 20, 2011