Their Finest Hour

Steve Darlow
Fighting High and For George Productions
Waterloo East

Jack Fairey and and Alex Cosgriff Credit: Sean Strange
The Company Credit: Sean Strange
Tabitha Baines, Laura Hannawin and Alice Moore Credit: Sean Strange

With the sounds of trains rattling ominously overhead, the small stage at Waterloo East is the perfect setting for a play that scales great heights, but all from the attic of a dearly missed grandfather.

Steve Darlow’s ambitious script chronicling the adventures, experiences and sacrifices of the RAF during WW2 is bookended with a family discovering their own link to it through the belongings of their grandfather. Beginning with a picture of two friends, the storytelling then widens to encompass over 100 characters, each with their own voice, each based on the diaries or interviews of real people.

Verbatim storytelling is a powerful tool and, when combined with songs and poetry, creates a more rounded view of a time period than some other formats can claim. However, it also creates inherent issues in casting, pace and costume which director Joe Malyan does an excellent job balancing.

The eight-strong cast demonstrate their versatility and commitment throughout, switching accents, props and mood almost seamlessly. Peter Pearson’s deeper tones lend a gravitas to his high-ranking characters and contrast well to Patrick Lock’s lighter presence as the consistent narrative voice of Jamie Dunlop—the young pilot in the photo from the opening scene.

A lot of thought has gone into the design of this show and the props almost take on their own life, chairs representing cockpits, a ladder swiftly turned into an Anderson shelter and sheets becoming parachutes and mountains. It lends the piece a fringe theatre feel with a style reminiscent of various physical theatre companies. There is even a nod to shadow puppetry with a plane flying over a map of Europe, but this concept could have been pushed even further.

Structurally, the production could be further streamlined to create even greater impact; there are several very touching images including a poignant tribute to the fallen, their hats placed on empty chairs, but across two acts it is hard to maintain that emotional punch. Similarly, concentration is needed to connect with the recurring characters in the midst of so many voices—however well the actors differentiate by accent and demeanour.

Overall, however, this is an earnest and beautifully performed show that reflects both the ‘derring do’ and the immense sacrifice of those who flew for their country. Tabitha Baines, Alex Cosgriff, Jack Fairey, Laura Hannawin, Emma Kemp and Alice Moore create lively, engaging and often humorous characters working together to ensure that every voice counts.

Their Finest Hour is an absorbing piece of drama that never forgets the human toll behind the glamour of the dashing uniform.

Reviewer: Amy Yorston

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