Saturday, 20 May 2017

Happy Days at War by Leah Milburn-Clark (Northcote Town Hall)

Leah Milburn-Clark, writer, director, star of Happy Days at War
In the midst of World War II, a German’s couple’s relationship is tested when the husband lands a job with the Fuhrer and must question if he has a future with his blind wife.

Written, starring and co-directed by Leah Milburn-Clark, Happy Days at War tackles big ideas in an intimate setting. Studio 1 at the Northcote Town Hall has never felt so cosy, with the audience lined up along the edge of a trestle table, cradling props that are waiting for us on our seats.

Nicola Stratman’s set design evokes a period kitchen, with a working stove allowing the scent of dinner to waft through the space. We are in that room, sometimes inches from the actors as they eat, drink, knead dough and play with a new pet.

Leah has written a part for herself that is challenging; her character is blind and interacts with the audience (those holding props), as if she is trying to find them, even when the character knows where she's left them. This woman is about routine and Leah makes these simple gestures fascinating to watch.

Jay Peardon as the husband has the tougher role, though. He must appear sympathetic at first, believable as a doting, affectionate husband and then watch him transform as he is affected by Nazi propaganda. It’s a big ask for the audience to track that change in a seventy-minute two-hander, but Jay's performance is striking in its shifts throughout.

The two performers are engaging and the production is lovely to look at, with all its theatrical nods to “realism”. The play is compelling, as we watch the routine of two lives turned upside-down by government policy they have no control over.

The character of the husband goes through a much more interesting journey than the wife, who simply reacts to her husband’s changing moods.  As the tone of the play changes, the whole production should feel a little more dangerous than it does; the collapse of this couple is a metaphor for the collapse of the country they love.

Leah Milburn-Clark is a recent graduate of WAAPA and she should be commended for getting a strong team of emerging artists together and taking this show on the road. I couldn’t help but think that an outside-eye, a director who was not writer and performer, might have helped to raise the stakes and interrogate things in the text that the writer might have missed.


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