Is Mark Giesser the Joan Littlewood of our time? Certainly, if his new play Good Morning, Alamo! is anything to go by. Even the use of an exclamation mark in the title suggests that this is a modern Oh! What a Lovely War.
Just as with Littlewood’s masterpiece, Good Morning, Alamo! contains clear political messages, both for the time in which most of the action is set (1835) and for contemporary audiences to ponder. The scene in which a Swiss farmhand is brought in as cheap labour echoes current xenophobic sentiment on eastern European migration, and a scene depicting the best way to film the heroic death of Davy Crockett says much about the sterilised and sentimental reporting of American ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some other political messages may pass audiences by, and whilst references to Disney, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra were all witty and vaguely satirical, their role within the piece felt a little like they were simply names plucked out of a hat marked “stereotypical American imagery”.
It is difficult to describe the plot due to the episodic and often non-linear nature of the production. Loosely, English painter Charlotte Vernon (the capable Zoe Teverson) and English cobbler Harry Birchfield (Steven Clarke) find themselves on opposite sides during the battle to make Texas an independent country.
Yet for me, it is the rather disparagingly titled ‘ensemble’ who steal the show; Richard Emerson hams up his various roles to glorious proportions, relishing each, admittedly contrived, accent which is afforded to him. Riona O’Connor is also excellent. In particular, her brief turn as a southern belle journalist is a comic treat. She is ably supported by James Palmer, whose range from hillbilly to Mexican Lieutenant is fluent and absorbing. The clear joy that each are having on stage has an infectious charm upon the audience.
It is lucky these performances are so engaging, aided by a witty and intelligent script, because unfortunately the play is undermined by its boring staging and bizarre lighting; it feels almost as if this is an excellent radio play that has suddenly found itself a stage.
Cold winter nights and the threat of snow may have an effect on audience numbers, which would be a real pity, because here, nestled away in the west London suburbs is a production full of heart, soul and plenty of thought.
Good Morning, Alamo! is playing at the Tabard Theatre until 9 February. http://tabardtheatre.co.uk