Written by David Morley, “A Cold Supper Behind Harrods” came into being following Morley’s meeting with ex Special Operations Executive operative, Leo Franks in the 1990s when Morley was working on a television programme called “War Heroes”. Morley felt he hadn’t done Franks’ memory justice and so penned this play which embodies what Franks told him: some of the real truth behind the Special Operations Executive, not the glossed up version told to the public. It was initially a radio play and the three lead actors who originally appeared in it have returned for the transfer to this stage version.
Directed by Philip Franks, tonight’s show was a live-streamed, script in hand version which in itself presented challenges for actors and the production crew. They have had very little rehearsal time (one day) and were facing all the nerves of a live show but without a live audience for projection and reaction.
With a high calibre lead character cast (David Jason, Stephanie Coleman and Anton Lessing), the bar was set high. Also appearing were Saffron Coomber and Lucy Doyle.
Without giving too much away, the play tells the story of three ex Special Operations Executive agents who are reunited after fifty years to take part in a television programme about their time during the Second World War. What seems to be a gentle, retired colleagues’ reunion gradually unfolds as nothing of the sort, with resentment, anger, bitterness and guilt all simmering beneath the surface until the truth is revealed.
The actors’ performances were more or less flawless. There were some fluffs now and then but these were well handled and did not detract. Lessing’s and Jason’s characters were very expressive and quite emotional and they conveyed this expertly, leaving you in no doubt as to what they were feeling. Their facial expressions were well judged, the feelings and emotions conveyed felt genuine. Cole’s character was less empathetic and quite cold and starchy, again this was conveyed with conviction.
I found, particularly with Jason and Lessing, that I did not notice they were reading from scripts for the majority of the time. Jason in particular did not look at his script for long periods so he had either learned the lines or was ad libbing excellently. His character had a hip flask and became more inebriated as the show progressed – this was done very convincingly (or maybe there was more than cold tea in there!)
The tension between the characters built slowly and by the end of the play it made for uncomfortable viewing as we learned something about one of them which completely changed the previously held perception of their character.
As the event was live streamed, there was freedom for the cameras to move around the stage, closing in on the actors at various points, rather than just having the static view as when seated in the auditorium. However, I found some of the camera work let the performance down with clumsy angles and I would have preferred the static view which would have made it feel more theatrical. Some impact was lost because the camera was focusing on one person only: by way of example, there is a ghost character who appears several times during the play. When she did, the camera focused on her head and shoulders only and the effects of dry ice and dimmed lighting were more or less lost and unfortunately had very little visual impact.
The set – an English country garden – was simple but very effective with wisteria and garden furniture and was more than I had expected.
This was an interesting way of viewing a theatrical production, I didn’t feel as though I was watching something on television, it actually felt very theatrical but, as in the words of Director, Phillip Franks “there’s no queue for the Ladies’ toilets”.
The fact that this was a script in hand performance did not make it feel any less real or theatrical and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Reviewer: Nicky Lambert
Reviewed: 11th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★