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Published on Thursday, 11 August 2011

3 stars

Sweet Grassmarket (venue website)
4-16, 18-28 Aug, 5:50pm-6:50pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Parental Guidance. Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

Historical dramas are difficult to pull off at the best of times. Striking the right balance between an accurate setting and a complete and interesting plotline is no mean feat; and when you’re limited to an hour’s duration, it becomes even harder. I had desperately hoped – in my complete fascination of all things to do with European history – for Wrens to succeed, but it fell short, just slightly, on both plot and timing.

Unfortunately, in its quest to portray the everyday routine of the WRENS – the Women’s Royal Naval Service, which supported the regular Navy during World War II – the play becomes a little tedious and slow. It’s all set in one room; that’s not something I’d normally mind, but here it served to make the story confined when it could have been much more complex. The production often features long silences as a character ties her shoe-laces or dresses, and while I understand the point they were trying to make, it all becomes a little bit awkward.

Still, after a slow start, the characters finally find themselves in an appropriately disastrous situation: Dawn (the main character) is the victim of a rape, and subsequently decides to have a then-illegal abortion. At this point, the slow start revealed why it’s a problem. The lights went down for the end, and I fully expected there to be a second act. If you’ve ever seen Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds,’ it felt rather like the ending of that – there just seemed to be no resolution at all.

That’s not to say the play wasn’t worth watching. There’s an undeniable sense of nostalgia, which will no doubt satisfy those who wish to remember such a time. The acting is solid and there are several fantastic musical numbers that showcase some brilliant voices. The two characters Meg and Gwenyth proved to be wonderfully witty and likeable (though a few of the other characters were fairly two-dimensional).

But the main reason this play scores its third star from me is its examination of some excellent themes. My admittedly fierce passion for the feminist cause provided some thought-provoking moments in the production. The characters argue amongst each other about the freedom they were granted by the war, and the hesitance they feel over giving it up. This, among other topics, adds to the excellent historical accuracy of the play.

It’s a shame that the whole thing wasn’t at least an half an hour longer, because on the whole, it was a witty, interesting and educational production. Had I been there purely to learn about the everyday life of the WRENS, I would have been extremely satisfied. As it was, I was desperately hoping for a dynamic and thought-provoking journey through the lives of noble women – but sadly, what I got was slightly duller moment in the lives of gossipy girls, and a feeling of surprise when I realised I had to clap for the end.

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