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Theatre Review Bruising consequences of the blitz

SIMON PARSONS recommends a new play on the stand-off in Southampton between locals and government during WWII

The Shadow Factory
NST City 
Southampton

IT WOULD be difficult to conceive of a more resonant production to open Southampton’s new 450-seat theatre than The Shadow Factory.

The Battle of Britain may be the context for this premiere of Howard Brenton’s play but the subject matter is the battle between locals in the city and the wartime government’s authoritarian approach to its people and their property.

After the 1940 bombing of the nearby Spitfire factory, homes and businesses were requisitioned under the Emergency Powers Act, to enable production to continue in a “shadow factory.”

The Dimmock family and their laundry, run by David Birrell’s obstinate, self-made businessman, a dyed-in-the-wool local, becomes the centre of conflict with Hilton McRae’s Beaverbrook, the pragmatically ruthless Minister for Aircraft Production.

Driven out of their business and up onto the common to avoid air raids, the Dimmock family reveal the physical hardships faced by the people of Southampton, while Jackie, their feisty daughter, betrothed and bereaved in the blitz, reveals the extent of the emotional suffering.

Jackie’s self-composed friend Polly, the only draughtswoman in the Spitfire design department, represents the other side of the issue — the grace, destructive power and essential purpose of the iconic English fighter plane.

The design team have to take major credit for what is a memorable production. A range of projections transform the characterless stage from mansion to war office, take us on an aerial map tour of Southampton and instantly establish diverse locations.

Above the stage mobile, illuminated bars simply and effectively suggest bomb-shaken roofs, air patterns, spitfire wings and diverse physical structures.

A professional cast of seven craft a range of memorable characters, from Anita Dobson’s dual roles as the amusingly outspoken grandmother and contrasting US heiress whose mansion is commandeered to Daniel York’s embattled chief engineer, struggling with divided loyalties.

Although the professionals create the individual narratives, it is Samuel Hodges’ direction of a 25-strong amateur chorus that fills the large concrete slab stage with energy and activity, creating atmospheric wartime bombing scenes, busy war offices and adding impact to the handful of songs.

Community theatre at its best.

Runs until March 3, box office: nstheatres.co.uk

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