Blitz!: Union Theatre, London
Reviewed 7th February 2020
This wartime romance by Lionel Bart (Oliver!) originally debuted in London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1962 and is now performing a short run for the first time in London for 20 years at the Union Theatre as part of the Phil Willmott Company’s Essential Classics season 2020: V.E Day – 75 Years On.
Once again the Union Theatre’s small space has managed to be completely transformed, this time inviting audiences into the Second World War with Reuben Speed’s detailed set. The stage is very tight but this works particularly well for the underground scenes, helping to show the claustrophobic environment. However, at other times the two large central set pieces do feel slightly bulky and don’t necessarily add to the drama onstage. According to Phil Willmott himself the original production back in 1962 had a no expense spared approach and the set, designed by Sean Kenn, was deemed to be ‘spectacular’ especially during the bombing scenes. This is one area in which this revival felt lacking. The bombing of London and of the characters’ homes should be emotional, atmospheric and shocking but these scenes felt slightly lacklustre.
The large cast are clearly committed to the production and their characters. There is no doubting where it is set – the cockney London is evident from the very first line. Whilst the moments anti-semitism are still prevalent in the show they are not focussed on. This, along with other themes in the show are underdeveloped.
Director, Phil Willmott has attempted to strip back Blitz! to its roots but there is a limit to what he can do and unfortunately the plot is very predictable and characters are stereotypical, meaning the audience lack empathy for them. Jessica Martin is excellent as Mrs Blitzein, as is Caitlin Anderson as Carol but it is not enough to completely win over the audience. As a revival it is well produced and stays true to the story. But its pace and predictability ultimately make this quite a dated show.
Lionel Bart’s music has some catchy tunes. The larger, ensemble numbers are rousing and enjoyable but largely the songs are not that memorable. Jessica Martin particularly stands out in her delivery of Bart’s songs due to her great characterisation which really adds meaning to the lyrics. The onstage band also excel throughout the show.
Overall this is a nostalgic show and, whilst it is not the most emotional or inspiring story, it is told well by the large cast. Blitz! is rarely revived so it is worth a trip to see this original Lionel Bart musical and it’s nice to see theatre commemorating the importance of V.E Day 75 years on.
Blitz! runs at the Union Theatre, London until the 7th March 2020. For tickets and information click here.
Photo Credit: Mark Senior