Everwitch Theatre, Helmsley Arts Centre and York Normandy Veterans
Square Chapel, Halifax
On 10 November 2017
Review by James Ballands
Theatre is a transient medium—this is both one of its greatest joys and one of its deepest sorrows. However, theatre also has the power to record, to bear witness to important events and rescue them from oblivion.
In Bomb Happy, writer and director Helena Fox has sought to keep alive the experiences of York’s last five Normandy veterans. Sadly, two of them—George “Merry” Meredith and Dennis “Hank” Haydock—have passed away since the project began, but their memory is preserved in this moving and respectful tribute.
Drawn from interviews that Fox conducted with the five veterans, Bomb Happy offers first-hand accounts of the Normandy landings in 1944 as experienced by these five men during their late teens and early twenties. These accounts are performed as interweaving monologues, with each of the five veterans being given equal space to tell their story.
Bomb Happy is rich in historical detail and offers a fresh perspective on an important historical event. At times I wished that the five protagonists would interact with each other, but I understand Fox’s desire to preserve the authenticity of the veterans’ accounts.
The production is stirringly acted by its young cast. Carl Wylie, Joe Sample, Thomas Lillywhite, George Stagnell and Adam Bruce all deliver confident performances of great warmth and likeability. There is also a touching albeit brief appearance from Beryl Nairn as Queenie, a facsimile of several real-life veterans’ wives and widows.
While I enjoyed the show very much, the highlight of the evening came at the end when York’s three remaining Normandy veterans—Ken “Smudger” Smith, Albert “Bert” Barritt and Ken “Cookey” Cooke—stood up to an enthusiastic round of applause. These men represent a generation of extraordinary bravery and courage, and it was an honour to be in their company.