As the world of art is restricted by lockdown 2.0, we’re forced to return to the old, new ways we had devised to keep theatre going while we all hunker down indoors. Plans for grand re-openings and socially distanced live theatre have been stopped in their tracks. Fortunately, GingerQuiff Media, Guy Chapman and Union Theatre bring us this rehearsed reading of Steven Carl McCasland’s Little Wars, watchable from home, to tide us over until we can cram ourselves into our far-too-small, not enough leg room, thoroughly uncomfortable red velvet seats once again (and what a joy it’ll be).
If the phrase ‘rehearsed reading’ prompts a mighty yawn in you like it did to me, then fear not. Aside from being able to see the cast, via webcam I presume, doing little but reciting their lines, this performance of Little Wars doesn’t feel like a rehearsed reading. Maybe I’ve spent too much time at the theatre (apologies for that revolting humblebrag), but if I shut my eyes, I can imagine the set, the costume, the way in which the cast move around the stage. So vividly, in fact, that I can’t help but feel sad that this production has been confined to a Zoom-style screen.
Nonetheless, the brilliant cast lead us through the plot with no hesitation, no awkwardness. I’m not sure if props here is due to the editors if pre-recorded and then put together, or the actors – either way it is seamless.
It’s 1940’s France, and we’re at a dinner party hosted by Gertrude Stein (Linda Bassett) and her girlfriend Alice Toklas (Catherine Russell), with Agatha Christie (Sophie Thompson), Lillian Hellman (Juliet Stevenson) and Dorothy Parker (Debbie Chazen) as the guests of dinner-party dreams. The drinks and the conversation flow, but we’re reminded that war is around the corner when Sarah Solemani as Muriel Gardener arrives to provide safe passage for Jewish refugees. She tells the group she’s merely a psychologist, but they soon become suspicious.
The group bicker and gossip, but they also share moments of sympathy, finding common ground between them all, often rooted in their femininity. Linda Bassett as Stein is like your robust, no-nonsense Aunt; witty and ruthless, but with an underlying warmth. Sophie Thompson avoids an over-characterisation of the inimitable Agatha Christie by giving her a gentle inquisitiveness, while Sarah Solemani is calm and level-headed, just as I imagine the incredible real-life Gardner might have been.
Little Wars really does an excellent job of portraying a life-affirming story well, despite only being able to do so online. Although the horrors of World War II are incomparable, it’s heartening to see a piece which, in a way, reflects the situation we’ve all found ourselves facing since earlier this year: putting our differences aside to come together to protect our peers.
Little Wars is streaming online until 3 December. For more information, visit the Little Wars website.