(2004) The Third Tunnel

 

Script shone through

A Class Act: The Third Tunnel, at New Greenham Arts, from Thursday, June 24, to Saturday, June 26

A Class Act is a drama group with a difference. Formed less than two years ago, the company's musical dramas bring together adult and junior performers with great effect in a community-style show. Their latest production, The Third Tunnel, written by the director David Slade, was set in the Blitz and told the tale of various families and friends living through the darkest days of the Second World War.

The studio theatre of New Greenham Arts provided an excellent backdrop for the play's setting of platforms and tunnels of the London Underground, where families crowded together to shelter from the bombs.

Class Act used the wide, dual-level stage to great effect, with subdued lighting and well chosen sound effects contributing to the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. They also paid close attention to detail, including costumes, hair and props - which added further to the atmosphere (let down only by unsightly microphones for the singers).

The play highlighted the endless hardships borne by London's population during the war, offering brief moments of romance and hilarity which helped to revive their 'bulldog spirit'. It also focused on the great levelling effect that the air-raids had on the families seeking mutual support in adversity.

Against the gloomy background, David Slade's script shone with wry humour and affection, and it was clear that he had given his cast a chance to develop their own characters (the children, in particular, had really stamped their own personalities on their roles).

The script was punctuated by a number of wartime songs, mostly sung as solos and duets. Some were a little anachronistic, but they were all tackled with sincerity and enthusiasm by the players. The radio mics proved somewhat unreliable, which was a shame, as the volume was uneven and the bold recorded accompaniments tended to overwhelm some of the soloists.

It's impossible to mention all of the 20-odd cast members, but a number of performances stood out. Paul Wrightson gave a nicely understated performance as Ralph, the spiv with the heart of gold, and his duet with Reenie came over well.

Wendy Orpwood was excellent as Reenie, the policeman's wife with an eye for romance, and Wendy's delivery of her own song Freedom was one of the highlights of the show.

Tony Cook showed his versatility with two very different parts. Tim, an aristocratic caricature, and the long-suffering Alby, who lost his trousers in one air raid only to be attacked by a neighbour's dog in the next.

Emma Newman gave a strong and melodic performance as Connie, and Natasha Atkins was well cast her snooty companion Alice. John Moran provided plenty of cockney charm as Charlie, while Sonya Bull (who also choreographed the show) played Winnie and Gertie with equal enthusiasm.

The junior cast were very much at the heart of the plot, as they ventured out along a disused tunnel (almost with tragic consequences). Led by Jack Denyer as Josie, the children gave consistently strong and audible performances throughout, and clearly loved every minute of the production. Congratulations to them all.

MARK LILLYCROP