18b

Nottingham New Theatre

Zoo

From 01 August 2014 to 25 August 2014

Rating: ***

Review by Amy Yorston

1942. Held in prison without trial for six weeks, three women await interrogation. This isn’t Germany. This isn’t Russia. This is England.

This piece of new writing examines a murky piece of our history that isn’t well publicised or remembered.

Defence Regulation 18b was used by the British Government during the Second World War. Suspending the right of habeas corpus it allowed the internment of people suspected of being Nazi sympathisers.

This play looks at three contrasting women as Government officials politely interrogate them whilst trying to determine how much of a threat they are to society.

One is an actress, open about her membership of the British Union of Fascists but clearly not an intellectual, another is a society wife who breezily admits that she has friends in Berlin and has met Hitler (in peacetime) but labels herself as patriotic, the third is a German who has lived in England quite happily for six years, is trusted in her job and is quiet about her politics.

The difficulty of judging these women falls to two men who are overworked and aware of the potential danger if they misjudge any of their prisoners.

This is a well constructed play which covers much ground, clarifying why the Government thought 18b necessary but also depicting through anecdote how tough prison life was for these ordinary women.

It is well cast and the actors ably handle the characters but for me neither the material nor direction goes far enough to make it truly hard hitting or provocative.

Whilst this is clearly a just a snapshot of many similar stories, it lacks the punch that I was anticipating. From a historical point of view an interesting piece nonetheless.