Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lotty's War - the writer wants young people to see it. He's right.

When I was a child in the immediate postwar period I was mostly protected from war stories - at least at home. My Father had been a Prisoner of War on the Burma Railway. He didn't talk about it and it's only in the last twenty or so years I've realised what that meant. The ManBooker prize-winning novel "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" has, in some ways, told me more than I needed to know. How can we, in an Age when we see nightly the horrors of conflict in colour and High Definition, put it in context? 

What is history? It's facts, and dates of course but it's also feelings. That's where The Arts come in. "The Narrow Road" is fiction, but it is also true. The same applies to "Lotty's War". It's not a true story and I suspect that there is lots of poetic licence in it. But it does have a message, many actually, about how we are and how, in extremis, we respond to fear and danger and grotesque intrusion into our lives.

Guernsey in 1940. The Germans invade and take charge. The people are expected to kowtow - some do, others don't. Teenage Lotty, initially resistant to the German General, Rolf,  forcibly billeted on her, eventually gives in to his charms and becomes his lover. Her platonic boyfriend, Ben, joins the resistance and fights. Who is the wiser? Who is the more admirable? Who is the braver? Who are we to say?

It is a claustrophobic play and rather an old-fashioned one. We see everything through the eyes of these three characters. But the easy application of moral judgments doesn't help us. Rolf murders a starving local without a conscience. And yet he is kind and genuinely tender to Lotty. She protects Ben, but in a way she protects Rolf as well. She grows up in his hands and is grateful to have been allowed to do so.

This is a play for children first and foremost, which doesn't mean that it is a childish play. But it portrays its themes in a very accessible way. Rather like those children's' matinees we used to see in the 1950s - or the war comics we had around us at the same time. As it is now 2014 love and sex and violence and the horrors of war are quite graphically portrayed. But there is nothing that would stop this being a play that children as young as maybe ten or so could not see.

In war good people do bad things - and vice versa sometimes. In war starving people eats dogs. In war the normal rules of behaviour are suspended. You need to be discerning in your judgments in times when it is almost impossible to be so. In war a sleepy complacent little place like a Channel Island becomes a grotesque parody of a community distorted by the invaders. 

"Lotty's War" requires strong performances and in this production it gets them. Olivia Hallinan as Lotty is very good and Mark Letheren (Rolf) and Adam Gillen (Ben) as well. It is not a complex nor, mostly, a very surprising play. Nor, for me anyway, was it especially realistic or believable. By that I mean the story - not the themes. The themes are universal and a younger audience, especially, will surely find the shorthand of the plot illuminates these themes well. In that respect it is like a musical without songs. You accept the lack of reality of what is unfolding because there are lessons to be absorbed. But you don't necessarily believe what you see. Who is the villain, and who the hero? Who deserves to survive the trauma and who not. And does the idea of just deserts actually have any meaning anyway? 


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