REVIEW: The Christmas Truce, RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon
A refreshing alternative to pantoland’s slapstick and sentimentality, The Christmas Truce is a heart-stirring tribute to those who fought in World War One and the devoted nurses who cared for them.
Based on the events surrounding the Christmas Truce in 1914, this new play by Phil Porter focuses on members of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment from raw recruits such as sporty Liggins (Oliver Lynes) and perennial moaner Smith (Harry Waller) to old hands Bill (Gerard Horan) and Bert (Roderick Smith).
The first half begins with a scene many of us will recognise – a village fete on a balmy summer’s day with games of cricket and cream teas. Before the play begins, youngsters in the audience were invited to try their luck at the coconut shy which meant my 12-year-old son Nick got the chance to tread the boards on only his first visit to this iconic theatre!
But the smiles soon fade as training begins and the troops are herded onto trains bound for the Western Front. While Old Bill pines for strawberry jam over plum and apple, his young comrades long for letters from loved ones and discuss the prospect of being home by Christmas.
The audience are drawn into their personal stories – we too despair at each fresh casualty and sympathise with reserve nurse Phoebe Bishop (Frances McNamee) during her argument with Matron (Leah Whitaker) over her colleagues’ lovingly created Christmas decorations for the ward.
There’s plenty of humour too, though – not least in the impromptu concert party organised by second lieutenant Bruce Bairnsfather (Joseph Kloska), whose quirky autobiographical drawings and cartoons can currently be viewed at the theatre, and traditional songs and carols to hum along to. And it wouldn’t be a seasonal show without a dusting of snow at the close.
The football match is both chaotic and cheery. There are allegations of cheating and hotly disputed penalties – emphasising that little has changed over the past 100 years!
Aimed at nine-year-olds and above, The Christmas Truce has all the ingredients of a festive treat – an enthusiastic cast, ingenious set design courtesy of Tom Piper and, above all, a cracking story.
The Christmas Truce runs until January 31, 2015. For tickets, call 0844 800 1114 or visit www.rsc.org.uk