Audiences at Theatre by the Lake are whisked back in time with a foot-tapping live swing band which tells the story of one day in the life of a grandma in 1943, writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.
Blonde Bombshells of 1943 is a rip-roaring night at the theatre set out in the round, capturing the big break for an all-girl swing band.
From writer Alan Platter this production by Theatre by the Lake, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Stephen Joseph Theatre is a musical play with a gripping story, classic music and a talented cast.
With a schoolgirl, a nun and a man in a dress trying to escape call up to the army, this wonderful production has the warm, cosy feel of a black and white Ealing comedy – yet in glorious technicolour.
When the Blonde Bombshells lose members every time they play an American GI army camp during World War II, band leader Betty, played with real passion by Georgina Field has to hold an audition for new members in their bombed-out rehearsal room – just hours before a moral boosting, live performance on the wireless, for the BBC.
All seven women and Patrick, the draft-dodging drummer are well cast, believable characters as well as multi-talented musicians – switching from saxophone to ukelele, trumpet to clarinet, drums to vocals – you never know who will be playing what at any time, however, all are brilliant.
Army girl Miranda, played with real joy by Stacey Ghent is the new upper-class member of the band who makes the role her own – you can feel the absolute pleasure she gets from playing the trumpet and performing. She makes this character believable and a delight to be with.
Sarah Groarke as Vera is no stranger to Theatre by the Lake, having been Mrs Driver in The Borrowers – and she can really make a trumpet sing!
Vera’s musician and drinking pal Grace, played by Alice McKenna provides humour and also the melancholy in this play. They remind us it wasn’t all GIs, swing music and dance bands in 1943. Their performance is realistic and touching. McKenna’s bass playing is wonderful as she dances around with the instrument at the same time!
You don’t expect a nun to join the Blonde Bombshells, but Sister Lily, played by Gleanne Purcell-Brown makes it work. With schoolgirl Liz, played by Lauren Chinery, the duo represent the innocence of the time, and they both have some brilliant lines that create another layer of humour in this play.
Piano player May, played by Verity Bajoria is another strong woman that has some cracking lines. Another great performance.
Rory Gradon, as Patrick captures the dilemma of young men being called up to fight – with the strong chance that their long lives ahead of them will be cut short. And he plays the perfect cheeky chappy.
For Liz, this one day in 1943 was the day she learnt about music, love and death. Sat in the audience, I can see why in her old age, she looked back on this day as the most exciting of her life.
The audience was keen to join in the final scenes of the performance, as they broadcast their concert on the wireless – across the BBC – and when the demand for an encore was answered, the full auditorium welcomed back the Blonde Bombshells like heroes returning from the front.
This is an uplifting night at the theatre.
Blonde Bombshells of 1943 by Alan Platter July 29th. For more information and to book your tickets visit www.theatrebythelake.com
Reviewer: Karen Morley-Chesworth
Reviewed: 6th July 2023
North West End UK Rating: