Monday, 5 May 2014

Review: The Second Minute. Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company.

Review: The Second Minute by Andy Barrett

Tour venue: Derby Theatre (Studio) May 3rd 2014

Andy Barrett's utterly engaging and emotionally compelling play, The Second Minute, is based on one Nottinghamshire soldier's letters from the trenches of The Great War to his mother in rural Nottinghamshire. And so it is regionally fitting that this piece is touring the East Midlands until 27th May.

It is performed by three actors from the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and concerns a young man called Thomas Swann, an innkeeper's son in rural Nottinghamshire who enlists in the Sherwood Foresters regiment in 1914 to fight, like thousands of other young men, on the Western Front. Many like Thomas saw this as an adventure and believed that the war on foreign soil would be over as quick as it had began. To keep in touch with families and friends back home letters were sent to and from the trenches at a phenomenal rate. Written communication during this period was of paramount importance. In 1913 a small town could expect up to twelve postal deliveries a day and in the height of the war (1917) nineteen thousand mailbags crossed the channel daily.

Playwright Andy Barrett gained special permission to search archives of the Museum of the Mercian Regiment for letters of this nature to form the basis of this play and was struck by a collection of over a hundred letters, postcards and photographs to and from private Thomas Swann. Many of the letters of this time were censored and mention little of the horrors of war. The content was a very moving 'conversation' between mother and son across two totally different landscapes and lifestyles; one of boredom, war and chaos and the other of the practicalities of running a pub and of the local harvests. But both writers had one enduring key ingredient and that is a deep unequivocal love for the other and this is the key to Barrett's sometimes funny, always interesting and often heart breaking play.

Swann is played with understated conviction by Adam Horvath, one minute smart and proud in uniform and ready to do his duty, the next minute sitting filthy in the trenches drafting the next vital letter home. Horvath is a splendid young actor and runs through a range of emotions from cheery Tommy to that of anger, confusion and disillusionment at the unpredictability of a soldier in action.

The other two parts bring us up to the modern day. Researcher Laura (Beatrice Comins) becomes more and more drawn into the life of Thomas after a box of his letters are found and delivered to her desk. She makes the decision to read them one a day and in chronological order and in doing so forms her own special relationship with the young man she calls Tom. Comins' part is the heart of the play, the almost tangible link between the past and the present – a desperate reaching out to discover the man behind the words and her subtle shining eyes portrayal exudes the yearning for love necessary for the play to work.

Actor Rob Goll is sympathetic and often very funny as Laura's aide Alan and introduces himself as the author of a book called The Second Minute. Goll is just right as Alan – a likeable combination of easy going 'stand easy' and full of enthusiasm for the Boys Own language of the age surrounding World War One and the typical army slang of the era. He is also sombre and respectful of the sacrifices of the thousands of men who lost their lives during the hellish conflicts, especially of the Battle of the Somme. A beautifully measured performance.

In all, this intimate play on a simple set (Sarah Lewis) visually aided by back projected animations and period photographs and beautifully directed by Nottingham Playhouse's Artistic Director Giles Croft is a delightful and moving piece of theatre well worth seeing and written by Nottingham writer Andy Barrett.

Touring and production information can be found here.

The Second Minute is part of the Nottingham and European Arts and Theatre Festival - neat14

Theatre photography copyright Robert Day.

1 comment:

Christopher Frost said...

I've appeared in a number of Andy's plays over the past 10 years or so. He has a knack of producing great work around local events or places. The last one I was in was about Raleigh. The bike factory, not the sailor