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Corn Exchange - Immortal

13th February 2003.

This was the Newbury News review.

Haunting memory

Immortal, at The Corn Exchange, on Thursday, February 13

Debut Theatre Company returned to their hometown with a captivating and enthralling play Immortal, following its success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Ciaran McConville's compelling drama was devised in collaboration with Second World War veterans which added a certain poignancy to the production.

The crew of a Lancaster Bomber, the Clarabel, are shot down on their way back to Blighty and crash land somewhere in Holland.

Five of them survive and are led by their pilot (Jeff Peterson) to the basement of a school, cleverly created by draped parachute silks and effective atmospheric lighting. The opening sequence with the noise of the plane crashing and then the crew lit by red lights created a striking image.

Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Darwin (Chris Courtney) is badly injured and the young, terrified heroes remain trapped in the basement while they assess their situation. "Maybe Jon can make a dash," suggests one of them. "No, he hasn't got the guts," replies another. This was typical of the play's wry black humour.

One by one they re-enact stories from their past and about how they joined up. There's Pilot Officer Dixon (Daniel McGowan), from London's East End, who can't stand Germans even although his father was German, Navigator Gimby (Benjamin Smith) who began his career as a cub reporter on the Rugby Chronicle and Frank (Ciaran McConville) desperate to get back home to see his young daughter. He finally breaks down in tears, questioning "what kind of a world is she going to grow up in?" (We may well ask that question today.)

Tensions mount as resistance worker Anna arrives, but is she who she appears to be? Could she be a spy? Why can't she find the wireless? Elizabeth Park gave a moving performance as we learn of her haunting enigmatic story and feel the full weight of all their predicaments as Darwin's condition deteriorates.

Suddenly we hear the roar of the Lancaster and are plunged into darkness. At a table writing a letter is Darwin with the rest of the cast in silhouette.

He is the only survivor. The rest were all killed, merely images and ghosts in his mind.

Tightly directed by Luann Priestman this was a powerful drama from a talented cast and for me a most moving theatrical experience. I hope they will return to Newbury soon.