Chris Eldon Lee reviews Jacqueline Wilson’s “Wave me Goodbye”, which is at Theatr Clywd until Saturday May 4th
My mother was a ‘vaccy’… evacuated from central Manchester to charming Cheshire in 1939 to avoid any pre-emptory bombing by the Germans.
The theme of evacuees is a popular one in children’s literature – City kids bunged onto trains to unknown rural destination with only toothbrush, a change of clothing and one favourite book. The prolific author Jacqueline Wilson alights on this scenario in her novel “Wave Me Goodbye” which has been vividly adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves and is deftly directed at Clwyd by Christian Patterson. And they, and their cast of 5 actors, one musician and a snotty puppet make a jolly good job of it.
The teenagers of Pensby High School on the Wirral trooped in at 10am on Monday morning to the sound of Glen Miller and came face to face with a surprisingly sketchy set featuring a giant shoebox (the significance of which only becomes apparent late in the play), a king-sized pencil case, a large pot of glue and a hugely out of scale two foot ruler. …all, of which, with the aid of a giddy revolving stage, provides Patterson with all the ammunition he needs to produce a fast-paced, constantly changing production to keep even the most easily bored mind completely alert.
It’s also a cracking good yarn with Wilson’s trademark tragic twist towards the end. The character acting is excellent … large enough to entertain but never going too far over the top.
Courtney George is the calm eye of the storm at Scouse lass Shirley…the dreamer who packs her suitcase with a dozen fanciful novels and wants to be a dancer when she grows up. She is sent to a Welsh village on a train full of children to go through the awful ordeal of being ‘selected’ by families obliged to take evacuees in. The prettiest girls and strongest lads are picked first; not Shirley.
Feeling like a left-over, she is billeted with a couple of likely lads – played by Sean Jones and a bed-wetting, nose-picking puppet – to the home of the mysterious Miss Waverley, who is a real posh knob with a nervous disposition and dresses like Barbara Cartland. Kerry Peers is beautifully eccentric in this role …and hilariously mad-cap earlier as the terror on the train; the bumptious girl you wouldn’t want to sit anywhere near.
Victoria John is marvellous as she flits between Shirley’s mum and Miss Chubb, Mrs Waverley’s housekeeper … and Sam C Wilson does the hard yards in all the brief male roles, wig and moustaches coming and going to at will.
What starts as a rather domestic story about a misplaced child, seeing your first cow, the horror of eating fluffy bunny rabbit pie, truth, loyalty and kindness … sharpens and deepens– as is Miss Wilson wont – into something more sinister and profound.
There is a locked room in Mrs Waverley’s house and Shirley finds the key. “Well what would you do?”, she asks the audience. The old lady catches her at it and so the sad story of her shoebox dolls’ house unfolds. The most magical moment of the play is the opening up of her ‘happy ever after’ dolls’ house doors.
This glorious piece of stage craft took me completely by surprise. And there is another even more surprising slight of hand the second time we see inside.
Suddenly the play ‘grows up’ and the cosy romp has a new serious sentimentality that – judging by the tiny gasps – seemed to touch the young audience. Now the story spans two world wars and the ladies’ fates tumble out.
It works on both levels, does this production – as a lesson in how hard life must have been in wartime and as a gentle morality play about rubbing along, sticking together and forgiving.
So much is squeezed into 90 minutes that events fairly race along. I could have done with a few more seconds and an extra line or two to highlight some of the more intimate confessions (it only takes one audience ‘cough’ to mask the moment) but I sensed the revelations and the redemption well enough. The humour is warm and hearty. And the final tableaux is deeply satisfying.
Clwyd’s children’s play are no Cinderellas…in either sense. I do hope this gets wider exposure.
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