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The Community of Hungerford Theatre Company: Happy as a Sandbag

18th to 21st February 2004, at John O'Gaunt School.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Flying the wartime flag

The Community of Hungerford Theatre Company: Happy as a Sandbag, at John O’Gaunt School, from Wednesday February 18 to Saturday February 21

Most of us were born after the war, and although we see a steady stream of war movies, they tend to concentrate on the action, rather than the home front. In this musical celebration by Ken Lee, we see the war from the perspective of the airmen and civilians in Britain including, towards the end, the American servicemen.

Although it gave rather a rose-tinted view, without portraying the horrors of war that were suffered in this country, you couldn’t help feeling that “the spirit of the blitz” – the patriotism and camaraderie – is something that is missing from our society today.

Director David Clayton had a huge cast of adults and children to deal with and, despite a few hiccups on the opening night, it all went very smoothly. We got into the mood straight away with a jaunty rendition of Chattanooga Choo Choo, with the children popping up, playing on kazoos. The context was set by Chamberlain’s announcement of the war, and we had further snippets from Churchill (a good impression by Terry Brooks), Monty, Lord Haw-Haw, and Hitler. We also got into the mood of the time with excerpts from ITMA and a patter routine from Max Miller. Guy Parkes was certainly cheeky enough for this, and he gave good performances and songs in a variety of other characters.

The evacuee children were excellent, with George Olney and Jo Fraser Reid, and Georgina Hendry giving a poignant rendition of The White Cliffs of Dover. Among the adults, Louise Hyde, Natalie Hyde and Isobel Cook were good as the Andrews sisters, with some lovely additional solos from Louise Hyde and other women whose names I didn’t get (note to the show’s PR: make sure the critic gets a full cast list!). Dave Whiddett was impressive in several roles, and Jennifer Hyde made a lovely Delia Smith.

This was an affectionate, feelgood show which also had some moving moments. The group of English and German soldiers singing Lili Marlene in the two languages was particularly touching.

The music, directed by Paul Hyde, was of a high standard, and Taz Martin’s choreography was lively. The pace was a bit slow at times, but we all waved the little Union flags we were given and had a smashing time.