Last night we went to Theatre Clwyd to watch a "local" play entitled Somewhere In England .
During the war, the BBC farmed out many of it's radio production broadcasts to the safety of the provinces. The ' city' of Bangor ( which lies just down the coast from us and which is no larger than an average town) had the responsibility of housing and dealing with a significant influx of London based variety artists.Jimmy Handley, Arthur Askey and a whole bevy of other comics and singers found themselves in the cultural backwater of the Welsh town and the play tries to capture this Welsh/ English, Urban/ rural, sexually adventurous / puritanical divide as the radio stars forge an uneasy truce with the locals.
The writer Mike James has chosen to produce a musical comedy of sorts over a straight drama, and so we have plenty of English bashing by the Welsh ( cleverly explained with written subtitles above the stage) , popular and well executed wartime songs and faithful reenactment a of popular radio shows such as Jimmy Handley's ITMA.
There is also a glimpse of how war changed the sexual behaviour and language of a significant number of the population , so the whole thing is not quite as fluffy as it at first appears.
It reminded me of a kind of adult pantomime .
Having said this, I think I would have preferred a straight drama to the comedy and one rather touching set of scenes perhaps hinted of just how powerful a straight production would have been.
I am referring to a scene where the comic Arthur Askey ( wonderfully played by Paul Barnhill) meets one of his biggest fans, a plain and simple farmer's wife, who is suffering from a severe mental disorder after the death of her husband. The comic's warmth and sympathy as he gets the matriarch to dance in her kitchen is beautifully observed and moving, and hints that the play would have been very different if it had not played for laughs.
Having said this, the laughs came thick and fast....and not just at the expense of the English characters, which was a surprise.
( the title btw refers to a common Welsh put down to the English.....it means literally
ARSEHOLES TO THE ENGLISH!)