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Bomber - by John Lingard
Performed - October 31st to November 3rd 2001 at Blackfriars Theatre
Poignant tribute to WW2
Local playwright and Boston Playgoers stalwart John Lingard scored a direct hit with audiences at the gala night and premiere of his haunting and atmospheric play, Bomber, on Wednesday.
Written largely to give credit to the hitherto unsung heroes of the Lincolnshire bomber commands, this play is the culmination of months of research, including a trip on a Lancaster at East Kirkby, an interview with a World War 2 Lancaster navigator and information gleaned from a lifetime's interest.
The play is set in and around an RAF airfield in a small village in Lincolnshire in the early years of World War 2 and centres on the lives of three new recruits to the bomber squadron. The action begins in the CO's office as the fresh new recruits arrive, straight from training school. With a heavy heart, he welcomes the 'Keen But Green' trio and passes them on to the Squadron Leader who will be responsible for assessing them and sending them off on bombing raids.
Desperately short of personnel and equipment the CO knows their chances of survival are slim, and that they are probably below the required age to enlist, but has no choice but to send them off on dangerous raids, probably to their deaths.
The new recruits soon make friends with the rest of the aircrew in the local pub where they regularly meet up to celebrate surviving the last bombing raid. There they try to ease the anxieties of their short lives with a few beers, some silly songs, and plenty of bravado.
There they make friends, fall in love and wait for the safe return of their friends and colleagues. There the locals sit and wait and mourn the losses with them.
The three are soon thrown into the thick of it and rapidly show their mettle as they pull through some heavy and very testing raids over Germany.
As their colleagues are killed and the three become more experienced, they are sent on ever more testing and dangerous missions. Knowing the odds are stacked against them though, still doesn't stop them having fun, falling in love and planning a future after the war....
The thinking man's war story, this play was very cleverly crafted to pull in threads of love, romance, intrigue, espionage, derring do, deception and danger. The much needed very sensitively written humour was provided by the village idiots with a theme that very clearly carried and developed right through the play. The final lines of the play made a very effective use of repetition that clearly showed the futility and madness of the endless, grotesque merry-go-round of war, sending shivers down sensitive spines in the audience.
A huge cast took part, including many Playgoers regulars plus many new faces drawn in from the Blackfriars Youth Theatre and New Young Talent, who were all about the average age of the recruits at that time.
Peter Grimshaw gave a notable performance as the CO, George Ramsden. This was not an easy part, nor an easy role to play in war either. A treacherous balance had to be struck between wanting to lead successful raids on Germany, and wanting the green young men in his command to stay alive for their 16th birthday! Peter brought a fatherly air, gravity and a war-weary humour to the role that was perfect for the part.
The three recruits at the centre of the story were played with flair and obvious relish by three bright newcomers, Craig Hallett (pilot officer Roger Hill), Michael Johnson (pilot officer John Lake) and Brett Roberts (pilot officer Tim Baker). All three gave excellent performances, with a level of confidence that belied their years - something the young pilots themselves would also have developed no doubt!
Michael Johnson played the leading role as dashing young John Lake, who fell in love, got arrested for suspected espionage and played the hero in a number of raids, helping others get safely back. Michael gave a sterling, mature performance and commanded the stage whenever he was on it. John's girlfriend Mags, was played very sweetly by Cathryn Seymour. They made a couple that would have melted the hardest heart.
Craig Hallet shone out as a potential comedy actor - delivering his humorous lines with perfect comic timing and achieving a good rapport with the audience. Sam Bartlett also stood out as the controller, maintaining a serious and professional air while delivering both the worst and best of news about the air-crews.
The main humour of the production was delivered by the village idiots, Fred (Ricky Roberts) and his dad Bert (Patrick Hall). The chicken and egg joke running through the play was a piece of brilliance, as was the casting and performance of Ricky Roberts as the hapless and totally dense Fred. That laugh surely had the lowest IQ in the county, and had the audience in stitches on its own. Ricky and Patrick really captured the spirit of the characters and were a hilarious double act that was a treat to watch.
The village pub was the centre of much of the action and was where we met the Major (John Richards) and the pub landlady (Glyn Ruskin).
John gave a charming performance as the kind hearted old Major and Glyn played a perfect rural Lincolnshire barmaid - getting the accent and demeanour off to a T.
Another regular to the pub was the posh but very kind and down to earth lady of the manor, played with style and class by Kathy Fullerton.
We also met airmen Brian (Peter Godfrey), Bob (Stuart Farrar) and Mike (Phillip Landshoft) in the pub, as well as Mags and her bubbly friend Jill (Kate Reid), all of whom gave commendable performances.
Sterling performances were also given by Diane Sharpe (PA to the CO), David Moore (flight sergeant), Adam Priestley (squadron leader Burge), Alex Findlay (met officer) and Lieutentant Goldman (Amy Morrish).
This play was very cleverly crafted and John Lingard's writing showed off his excellent skills of characterisation, humour, plot and good old fashioned story-telling.
The underlying message of the play being the madness and futility of war, a sentiment which was chillingly and brilliantly outlined in the repetition of the final scene.
John also directed the play and co-designed the set, which made very good use of space, to include four different locations at any given time.
The source of the action was indicated by lighting (Paul Gibson) and sound and allowed more than one scene to be on stage at any given time, a technique which cleverly allowed simultaneous action to take place on stage without a scene change.
The numerous scene changes were slickly dealt with in this way and were smoothed over by clips of radio broadcasts, aircraft sounds and music of the time, all of which added to the polish and atmosphere of the production, and whisked the audience back in time to the 40s.
Towards the end, the audience were taken on a trip into the air by the clever use of some film taken inside a real Lancaster cockpit, adding greatly to the grit and realism of the play.
All-in-all, a must see production for anyone with an interest in local history, World War Two, or just well written, acted and produced local amateur productions.
Halloween was an appropriate date for the first night as this play surely captured the spirit of World War Two bomber squadrons that bravely flew through and fought in the dark, cold Lincolnshire skies in the 40s. A fitting and poignant tribute to the brave souls who gave their lives to defend our freedom.
The gala night (which included 40's food) was attended by the Mayor of Boston and local dignitaries, and raised ?200 for the local branch of the Royal Air Force Association Welfare Fund.
K Steepwood, Boston Target 7/11/2001
Actors names on right:
Janet (personal asst to CO) - Diane Sharpe
Wing Commander George Ramsden - Peter Grimshaw
Flight Sergeant - David Moore
Pilot Officer Roger Hill - Craig Hallett
Pilot Officer John Lake - Michael Johnson
Pilot Officer Tim Baker - Brett Roberts
Squadron Leader 'Johnny' Burge - Adam Priestley
Landlady - Glyn Ruskin
Major - John Richards
Bert - Patrick Hall
Fred - Ricky Roberts
Brian - Peter Godfrey
Tom - Simon Radford
Bob - Stuart Farrar
Mike - Phillip Landshoft
Jill - Katie Reid
Mags - Cathryn Seymour
Met. Officer? - Alex Findlay
Joan 'Lady of the Manor' - Kathy Fullerton
Controller - Sam Bartlett
Director - John Lingard
Producer - Judith Hall
Stage Manager - Judith Hall
Stage Design - Paul Gibson, John Lingard
Stage Construction - David Nickols, Paul Gibson, Members of the Society, Members of Blackfriars Youth Theatre
Stage Crew - Members of Blackfriars Youth Theatre & New Young Talent, Suzanne Lynch
Technical Advisers to Author - Squadron Leader 'Rick' Groombridge, Mr JG (Jack) Glashan
Costume - Alternative Wardrobe, Grantham, Military Store, Frithville, Andy, Portobello Row, Boston
Furniture & Properties - Kirton Antiques, Bateman's, Wainfleet
Properties - Sam Zwemmer, John Jackson
Lighting - Paul Gibson
Sound - Paul Gibson
Stage Technician - Andrew Gath
Publicity - Kathy Fullerton
Programme - Patrick Hall, John Lingard
Make Up - Molly Barrett, Diane Nixon
Prompt - Carol Walmsley