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Review: Spring Offensive at Clapham Omnibus

20 April, 2017 — By Jane Clinton

Pam is busy cleaning the fragment of a bayonet at the dining room table and a tabard-clad Tom is fresh from leading a battlefield tour.

Welcome to April’s Guest House and Tea Room on the Somme. Run by the capricious and restless April, her two guests, Pam and Tom, are more like an extended family in what first appears to be a cosy domestic setting. But appearances can be deceptive.

Set against the backdrop of the colossal loss of life during the First World War, each of the characters in this wickedly funny and at times deeply poignant play, are struggling with their own loss and the grief that comes with it.

April is no longer young but insists she has still “got it” and proves it by intermittently head banging to “the Quo” and flirting with Tom.

At turns cruel, funny and vulnerable, April (played with a brilliant viciousness by Victoria Willing, who also wrote this fine play) bosses her guests, in particular people-pleaser Pam, but dotes on the sheep she keeps (and sometimes even serves them up to her guests).

Lamenting the lack of a man in her life – her husband left her with their young child 20 years ago – she craves male attention but is ultimately unsatisfied.

Like a spoiled child she bullies the meek and apologetic Pam, played to perfection by Maggie Daniels.

Pam has come to the Somme to trace the grave of a WWI soldier she has fallen in love with. For years she cared for her ailing mother and has missed out on life and love. Now she is stretching her wings and hopes an exhibition of her war graves photographs will show the futility of war.

This resistance to the “glory of war” rattles Tom, played with impeccable comic bumptiousness by Tony Turner. As well as his battlefield tours, Tom, makes a buck selling WWI-themed souvenirs, including rifle-shaped chocolates.

Referred to as “the Colonel”, his “war record” may not be quite what it seems, and a secret about his life emerges that haunts him.

Indeed, as dinner is served and tempers flare, all three characters’ masks slip.

At the end of each scene the sound of bleating sheep creates a sense of foreboding, of something encroaching upon the guests. Is it really just the sheep or is it the unpalatable truths of their real characters finally emerging?

Skilfully directed by Marie McCarthy, this immersive play (the audience sit on sofas and chairs) is full of hilarious comic moments.

With its vividly-drawn characters and such a sparkling, caustic script, Spring Offensive is surely destined for a West End transfer.

Until April 30
020 7498 4699

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