Three Days in May

Ben Brown
Trafalgar Studios 1
(2011)

Three Days in May

The main selling point for this two-hour long drama is an exceptional imitation of Sir Winston Churchill by Warren Clarke.

The actor may not thank critics who say so but he is made for the part. Not only does he have the same initials but the jowls and squashed nose have the kind of authenticity that plastic surgeons can only dream of. Add in perfect vocal mimicry and the impression is complete.

Alongside Clarke, the other players also conjure up convincing likenesses of the big political hitters of yore as they relive the darkest days of World War II.

The three days in question start on 26 May 1940 as the allies seem poised to collapse when Mussolini threatens to bring Italy into the War alongside the Germans. To make matters worse, the Belgians have thrown in the towel and the French seem certain to follow suit.

This causes consternation in a sandbagged 10 Downing Street (just down the road from this theatre) as a shaky coalition of opposites is obliged to present a unified face to a petrified public.

On the Tory side, promoting appeasement are Neville Chamberlain, only 16 days out of office as Prime Minister and the patrician Lord Halifax, played with appropriate dignity respectively by Robert Demeger and Jeremy Clyde.

Lined up against them are a future PM but from the Labour side, Clement Attlee (Michael Sheldon) and his Yorkshire-born colleague, Arthur Greenwood (Dicken Ashworth), the only one of the lot who does not sound as if he has the varsity in his blood.

Narrated by James Alper's youthful Prime Ministerial PA, Jock Colville, who later became a renowned diarist as the rather more esteemed Sir John, the story feels far more like a political memoir than a piece written with the stage in mind.

While this was a momentous period when a World War was won and lost, the debates are very static, as five men sit around a table and occasionally emerge for a political chat in the garden or park.

There is, though, an element of Machiavellian posturing, especially when the wily old fox of a Premier plays one man off against another in an effort to get his own way.

The producers may hope that viewers will see parallels with recent political argy-bargy over entry into Afghanistan and Iraq. The diplomacy currently going on in Greece might also have many of the same characteristics, were we lent a contemporary Grecian equivalent of Colville to become a fly on the wall.

Even so, Three Days in May is most likely to appeal to those with a deep interest in history of the period rather than more general theatregoers.

This production was reviewed by Alex Ramon in Richmond and Sheila Connor in Guildford

Reviewer: Philip Fisher