Tuesday, May 28

Fire Embers Ash – Barons Court Theatre

This play by Hailey Mashburn tells the little-known story of the establishment by the Soviet Union of the first all-female aviation regiment to fight against the Nazis in the Second World War.  Apparently, the regiments were created by Stalin after pressure from one of the early aviators Marina Raskova, portrayed in this play by Henrietta Laursen in the role of commander.  The establishment of the unit was controversial and looked down upon by many of their male colleagues.  They were only allocated old and decrepit planes and had to wear ill-fitting male uniforms.  Nevertheless, they distinguished themselves, and were nicknamed by the Nazis as the ” Night Witches”. The title which they adopted themselves with pride.  To overcome the deficiencies of their equipment they developed the technique of cutting their engines as they approached the target, to fall silently to release their bombs, before restarting their engines to make their escape.

The play consists of a  number of short interlocking scenes showing aspects of the lives of the aviators, in the air, preparing for their flights, and relaxing in each other’s company by telling stories and speculating about their lives after the war.  It is a very well written script and demonstrates, whether correctly or not, a rather different atmosphere from that of those many depictions of male aviators who resorted to false bonhomie as a way of coping with the extraordinary stresses.

It was performed very well by the five actors and the production by Stephen Smith, who not only directed but took responsibility for lighting design, sound design and set design, was excellent.   It worked very well in The Barons Court Theatre’s small crypt like production space.  The intimacy and the darkness conjured the atmosphere faced by these brave ladies who nightly risked their lives.  The minimum of stage furniture was used, but a model biplane was used extremely effectively when simply lit by the cast with torches throwing shadows of the plane onto the walls.  Very effective lighting and sound added to the effect and the 60 minutes of the production flew by.

I thought this was an extremely effective piece of theatre, which is well worth seeing. It is playing along with a companion piece Paved with Gold and Ashes which I did not see but based upon the strength of  Fire Embers Ash , the double bill could be well worth an evening’s viewing.

Playing until 27th January, https://app.lineupnow.com/event/fire-embers-ash-by-hailey-mashburn

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 20th January 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.