THE BLONDE BOMSHELLS OF 1943 DAZZLE AT THE OCTAGON
REVIEW By Steve Cooke
The Octagon Theatre Bolton is on a roll will an exhilarating production of Blonde Bombshells of 1943 coming hot on the heels of crowd pleasers such as Spring and Port Wine and The Book of Will.
The Blonde Bombshells are a female dance band led by Betty (Georgina Field) touring WW2 army barracks to boost morale. A turnover in band members due to a tendency to pair off with the morale-boosted soldiers means they have run short of players prior to an upcoming prestigious recording for the BBC. Hence the first half of the play’s auditions in the shape of an innocent schoolgirl, a naïve nun who doesn’t understand the saucy innuendo of the songs she learned from her aunty in Bradford, and an outrageously eccentric member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. In their desperation they also take on a conscription avoiding male drummer as long as he is willing to dress in drag.
Blonde Bombshells of 1943 is play with music with full renditions of many of the hits of the time, showcasing the excellent versatile musicianship of the ensemble.
The play’s drama revolves around Patrick (Rory Gradon), whose conscription avoidance offends band members with a lost loved one and a husband who is a prisoner of war of the Japanese. The resolution coming solved when he eventually joins up.
The jokes and songs, delivered with warmth and enthusiasm by the multi-talented cast, are a tribute to the 1940’s swing era and more pertinently to the indomitable spirit of the ordinary people of the home front getting on with it under constant threat from. Hitler’s bombs.
One of many comic highlights is Stacey Ghent as, the much older than her years, eccentric solider Miranda, casually defusing a ticking bomb with a hair-clip before proceeding to freshen her make-up.
Gleanne Purcell-Brown also dazzles as the overeager, effervescently cheerful Lily.
Designer Jess Curtis having startled the audience returning for the second act with a huge German bomb centre-stage follows up with the transformation into a glittering dance hall, including a Mirrorball.
Zoë Waterman’s direction creates an authenticity with such as the skilful deployment of the stagehands who change props dressed as air raid wardens or radio technicians. The songs are, where appropriate, sung in American accents with stage announcements and banter having a Northern England tone.
Lauren Chinery’s gawky schoolgirl becomes in full fairy tale mode transforms into a sophisticated torch singer and Gleanne Purcell-Brown pays tribute to Billie Holiday with gardenia in her hair.
The audience are on their feet, flag waving, dancing and enthusiastically applauding - including members of the press!
This Co-production from Octagon Theatre Bolton, Stephen Joseph Theatre and Theatre by the Lake is definitely a not to be missed uplifting experience that can be highly recommended to people of all ages.
Octagon Theatre Bolton from until Sat 1 July before transferring to Theatre by the Lake from Wed 5 – Sat 29 July and Stephen Joseph Theatre from Wed 2 – Sat 26 August.
Tickets start from £15.
Find out more and book tickets via the Box Office on 01204 520661 or at octagonbolton.co.uk.
The cast includes Verity Bajoria (Tale of a Thousand and One Nights, Dragonboy Productions, Atrocities at Arkham, Tell No Tales Theatre Company); Lauren Chinery (Dreamboats and Petticoats, Bill Kenwright Ltd, Gatsby, Ruby in the Dust); Georgina Field (Gods & Dogs, The Rude Mechanical Theatre Company, Roll Over Beethoven, Belgrade Theatre Coventry).
Joined by Stacey Ghent (We are the Best, Live Theatre, When the Long Trick’s Over, High Tide and New Wolsey Theatre); Rory Gradon (The Snow Queen, London Touring Players, Julius Caesar, The Undisposables); Sarah Groarke (The Borrowers, Theatre by the Lake, Jane Eyre, Stephen Joseph Theatre and New Vic Theatre).
Completing the cast are Alice McKenna (Red Sky at Night, Mikron Theatre Company, Girls Don’t Play Guitar, Royal Court Liverpool); and Gleanne Purcell-Brown (Playboy of the West Indies, The Birmingham Rep Company, She Loves Me, Sheffield Crucible).
The creative team includes Jess Curtis (designer); Greg Last (musical director); Richard G Jones (lighting designer); Chris Bogg (sound designer); Sundeep Saini (movement director); Howard Gray (orchestrations); Sarah Hughes (casting director); and Ryan McVeigh (assistant director).