Greyhounds is a big play for such a tiny theatre space. Thankfully Laura Crow has written and staged Greyhounds so effectively that for most of the performance the tiny stage is forgotten in that the writing and the performances are what command attention. Set over a month long rehearsal for an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Henry V it gives a poignant and perceptive window into the impact of WW11 on individuals in the sleepy village of Shuttlefield.
Each of the five characters are fleshed out and have an real authenticity as people in 1941 living in wartime Britain and dealing with their individual responses to war. Big sister Ruby is stoic and gungho in her determination to do her “bit” for the war effort. Armed with a sneaky gin or two she sets about staging Henry V to raise money for a Spitfire for the war effort. She is undeterred by a cast of five plus recreating a play with a cast of fifty plus. Nancy is a would-be professional actress with a husband in the Navy. Bright and bubbly, Rachel Horobin portrays her as a wartime “good” goodtime gal who rejoices in her independence . Katherine is brilliantly analytical and terrifyingly literal. The character is beautifully conceived as the young sister who is clearly on the autistic spectrum. She is played by Laura Crow with the chilly coolness of a early Katherine Hepburn.
The men in this piece are slightly more obvious. There are two very different heroes who are both struggling with what constitutes courage and honour in wartime. In Will there is a clever, sensitive man trying to stay true to his beliefs in a war where nothing is truly black and white. Ned is perceived by all as a wounded war hero but his emotional wounds are much deeper and are unlikely to ever fully heal.
The passages from Henry V in the rehearsals are thoughtfully used to develop and highlight the individual stories of each character on stage. They also provide a light touch as we observe the range of acting skills in this bunch of mainly reluctant thespians. At times Katherine is as woefully wooden in her roles as the swords used as props.
The attention to detail in the whole play is a delight. The dialogue has a real period tone that manages to always feel fresh and naturalistic. The wartime posters, period gin bottles, bakelite phones and radios are on stage while the audience clasp beautiful programmes designed like wartime i.d. cards. Hair, make up and costumes are also lovingly considered.
The play unfolds with little gems of story. A character lives a life of duty and obligation yet dreams of the work of Frida Pablo and Diego Rivera. Another fears the end of this war and a return to a bleak domestic normality. Others look for salvation in new opportunities, the lucky ones in this war are those for whom war gives openings to natural abilities previously seen as character flaws.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slip, straining upon the start. This line from Henry V is apt as a title in that all five characters are straining for new freedoms and opportunities. I suspect the writing is also straining to start her next work. I for one look forward to whatever that may be.