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We That Are Left

Gary Owen
Watford Palace Theatre
(2007)

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We That Are Left has a heavenly opening, as a gauzy curtain opens to reveal a set that is reminiscent of the art of Patrick Caulfield. Riding on a wave on the top level are a young couple from the 1940s, while down below we see a pair of 80 year-olds today.

The stage is backed by a deep blue horizon, with a large tree to complete the effect created by designer Hannah Clark, aided by some subtle lighting from James Farncombe.

The theatre's Artistic Director Brigid Larmour ensures that the ears feast as much as the eyes by accompanying this double tableau with the appropriately ethereal beauty of Vaughan Williams' Lark Ascending, which maintains the air of wistfulness on its reappearances during the evening.

Throughout, the two time lines run in parallel, with all four actors on stage for most of the play.

As the play opens, in 1940, Amy Hall's Ginger has escaped a dance hall for some fresh-air and a cigarette. This pretty anti-aircraft officer would be happily engaged, if only she knew whether her fiancée was still alive, having protected his countrymen rather than getting on to a boat at Dunkirk.

There, she meets a gauche young flier, Billy (played by Paul Woodson). In these strange times with the Battle of Britain raging in the skies above, life is potentially very short. In such an atmosphere love, or at least a simulacrum, soon develops between the couple.

Having lost one kind of cherry by downing a Heinkel, Billy loses another, together with his heart, to a woman who is probably being more charitable than loving.

This element of the play allows Gary Owen to explore the morality of killing in a context where if you do not, you or your loved ones may themselves die. At the same time, he looks at what love might mean to someone who could be dead tomorrow and how a night or two of illicit passion might affect a longer term relationship.

This last topic is seen in a very different light sixty years on, when the older couple Ruth and James meet for that first time since she broke off their engagement during the war. It is no surprise to discover that Ginger and Ruth (played by Angela Down) are one, thus creating a link between the two periods.

After so long, Gawn Grainger's James has come looking for the woman who gave up on him while he was a prisoner-of-war in the hope of renewing the relationship, now that both are widowed. Each is in need of the help that the other can provide. Ruth is far too fond of drink and has no money, while James is slowly succumbing to dementia.

While the younger couple build a relationship that was never likely to endure for much of their lives, the elder pairing finally come together forever, though their forever may be little longer than the few weeks that a flier was likely to survive during that awful summer.

Brigid Larmour ensures that her cast are well up to the mark, with the older couple bringing out the play's comedy, while Paul Woodson particularly impresses as the uncomfortably innocent Billy.

We That Are Left is a well-constructed but very quiet two-and-a-quarter hour play that will probably appeal most of those who have some memory of the war years. It is touching and occasionally very revealing but is unlikely to prove a hit with anyone who requires a degree of excitement from their dramas.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher