Saturday 27 June 2009

Carrie's War, Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, central London

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With austere period costumes, a wistful ambiance and an elaborate set encompassing two two-storey houses, Carrie's War effectively evokes the stoicism and upheaval of 1940s Britain. Early on in the play, Carrie and her whinging brother Nick are evacuated to a Welsh mining valley in a railway carriage that descends silently from the ceiling and departs in a cloud of smoke. Unfortunately, Sarah Edwardson and James Joyce's slightly over-the-top acting and adult-sized children's clothes can break the spell.

The screaming skull
But Sion Tudor Owens, playing the bible-bashing Mr. Evans, is a fine comic actor. Clicking, sucking between his teeth and pontificating passionately in English and Welsh, he reminds you of a kettle jammed just below boiling point. Amanda Symonds, the wise witch, and James Beddard, as a handicapped farm hand, also add energy and intrigue as they relay the story of the screaming skull and charm the children. However, Prunella Scales, playing the rather insipid and ancient Mrs. Gotobed, is prone to forgetting her lines, further disrupting the flow and intensity of a play already fragmented into far too many scenes. Although the characters can be one-dimensional and the plot, which neatly contrasts tolerance and prejudice, is undemanding, Carrie's War should captivate children around the age of 10. Punctuated throughout by some fine Welsh choral singing by several members of the cast, there is also just about enough to keep adults entertained.

Only half-full
With the well-preserved and ornate Apollo Theatre only half-full for some performances, there are bargains to be had and it is possible to get a good seat in the stalls for just £12.50. Still, you will need to save a few pennies for the interval drinks - a small bottle of water costs £2 and a bottle of Magners Cider twice that. 7/10