Skip to content


Churchills Children
Published on Monday, 14 May 2012

2 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
11-13 May, 3:00pm-3:50pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 World Premiere.
 2-for-1 tickets for Friends of the Fringe members.

In the darkest days of the Second World War, three children – left behind when many of their friends were evacuated to the countryside – meet for one last time in a perilous, burning, front-line Brighton.  A host of detailed local references, and a wealth of equally detailed historical research, feed into this darkly complex play.  But it’s too complex; too well-researched, maybe.  It touches on a vast range of topics, but I can’t tell you what it’s about, at all.

The children are trapped in a Brighton house.  Why are they trapped?  I never quite worked that out – there’s something about an unexploded bomb, but that doesn’t stop one of them getting in.  The new arrival is a scallywag, trained to become the British Resistance if the Nazis invade, and she’s done something terrible this morning – but again, I couldn’t quite figure out why.  I’m honestly not sure how much of this was meant to be mysterious, and how much relied on background knowledge, which I (though well-informed on the War in general) simply didn’t possess.  Either way, despite concentrating as hard as I could, I soon found that the densely-packed dialogue was simply washing by.

It doesn’t help that the characters speak in portentous, riddling epigrams, beautifully constructed but sorely out of place in the relatively naturalistic context of the play.  Who, looking down the barrel of a gun, would spontaneously come out with “Ink is dry, die is cast”?  The lyricism had its place – the description of a death on the beach is almost beautiful in its desolation – but for the greater part, I found myself wishing that they would simply say what they mean.

It’s a real pity, because there are a number of interesting concepts underpinning the script.  Somehow, the children know that Operation Sea Lion – the invasion of England – is planned for the following morning.  The question of what you’d do, in the moral confusion at the end of days, is always a compelling one; and it leads in this case to a convincing finale, that’s shocking in its understated horror.  The Catholic character posed interesting questions too – did she face conflicts or prejudice, now that Italy had entered the war?

And these are simply examples of the script’s myriad themes, any one or two of which could have made a fine play.  But altogether, there was just too much, too quickly, and with too little time taken to explain.  Authentically emotional acting from a committed cast sadly can’t overcome that fundamental confusion.  I truly hope that playwright Lita Doolan will take another swing at this concept; such a mass of research shouldn’t go to waste, and there’s a powerful story waiting to be brought out by a firmer editorial hand.

<< Only in Brighton...   Small Talk >>


These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.