Ginger Quiff Media’s rehearsed reading of Little Wars by Steven Carl McCasland, is an emotional rollercoaster taking place against the backdrop of a literary salon in 1940s France. Gertrude Stein (Linda Bassett) and her girlfriend, Alice B Toklas (Catherine Russell) host the get together and their guests talk about everything from their lives as Jewish people during wartime to the role of female writers and their work.
Directed by Hannah Chissick, the play opens with typewritten stage directions, which create a nice sense of the period and nods to the literary theme of the play. A good way to take advantage of the online format, the stage directions which appear throughout the piece create a good sense of the action that we are not seeing during the rehearsed reading.
The play is full of dark humour and wry references to wartime life and doing your bit, some of which are eerily evocative of life today. As it progresses the issues become more serious but it never fully loses that sense of lightness which both captivates and creates an up and down of emotions often felt in real life but rarely captured in theatre.
The frank discussion of women’s issues and the graphic descriptions of some elements of the characters’ stories are breath-taking and really make you empathise with each of these legendary women sitting around a table drinking. Interesting conversations about themes which are still relevant today make the piece painfully relevant.
Russell’s portrayal of Toklas is excellent, as she remains the voice of calm against Bassett’s aggressive, or forcefully confident, portrayal of Stein. It is of course interesting to think about how these characters would be described and how their behaviour would be viewed if they were men. The chemistry between the two is brilliant and Russell’s nostalgic recollections of their early courtship is beautiful.
Sarah Solemani’s performance as Mary is incredible combining a feeling of being entirely lost with one of being entirely at peace with oneself. Her presence is felt throughout the piece and her starstruck behaviour over the writers coming to dinner conflicts nicely with Bernadette’s (Natasha Karp) nonchalance.
Juliet Stevenson’s cold portrayal of Lillian Hellman has real heart to it and the delicate layers of her character are well performed. Debbie Chazen’s manic portrayal of Dorothy Parker stands out for its high energy within a static piece. Sophie Tompson’s Agatha Christie is frightfully stoic and all knowing, contrasting well with the emotional portrayal of the other characters.
This is a heart wrenching piece of theatre which shows a side of the second world war which is rarely considered. From the critiques of each other’s writing to the criticisms of each other’s behaviour, the intricate layers of the piece astound and mesmerize. Painful to watch at times, this is one of those plays where you just cannot look away. Echoing so many of the themes we are living with today, this is a stark reminder that whilst “the luxuries of art may seem a trifle selfish these days”, art has, and will, endure, and it does and will bring people together even during times when the sense of impending doom is palpable.
Little Wars is being streamed online until 8th November 2020. Tickets are available here https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/theatre4all-online
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 2nd November 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★