Theatre Review: Tom, Dick & Harry @ The New Vic Theatre

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Image: New Vic Theatre

It is rare for North Staffordshire to host a world premiere theatre event other than when the play’s content is of local importance. However, that is exactly what the audiences at the New Vic have been privileged to experience with the production of Tom, Dick and Harry.

The story – basically a true one – is not unfamiliar as the attempted escape from Stalag Luft III (supposedly escape-proof Prisoner of War camp) – the title alludes to the three tunnels dug to aid the escape – has been covered in film and book versions in the past. What is unique about this new piece of theatre is that the writers – Theresa Heskins who went on to direct the play and Michael Hugo and Andrew Pollard who both have significant parts to play on stage – did meticulous research by accessing previously classified material to not only provide an accurate record of the events but also allow the audience to understand the psyche of those involved in the planning and execution of the escape plan. This allowed the scenes to become much more personalised and the characters to become more realistic and human than if the drama had been solely designed as a piece of action theatre.

Tom, Dick and Harry makes many important points that resonate with the audience. It highlights the ingenuity and imagination of the human race as the prisoners of war pooled their resources and talents to make clothing from blankets and compasses from parts of broken gramophone records while providing the escapers with documentation authentic enough to evade capture and ruses to cover the fact that they had few language skills.

It also showed that the POWs needed escapism as well as the need to escape. The Royal Raviolis were typical of troupes designed to entertain the inmates while the Carmen Miranda scene reflects the ingenuity of the men to provide “female” entertainment.

The audience member is also asked to consider the status of captor and captive. There is a memorable scene when Giesler – a fanatical guard obsessed with preventing escapes – almost breaks down as he contrasts the comparative luxury enjoyed by the inmates with the starvation and terror of his own family as the tide of war turns against Germany. Giesler’s fanaticism is in contrast to Fritz who has no real desire to be a guard after being invalided from the Eastern Front and his colleagues who unwittingly aid the escape attempt by bartering materials vital to the prisoners’ efforts for luxuries from the Red Cross.

One final thought pertinent to the present day where the United Kingdom wishes to stand alone is that the escape attempt relied on the co-operation and alliance of men from all corners of the globe including Europe and the Commonwealth. Would that have happened so easily in the current mindset?

Just as the prisoners had to show their versatility so too do the members of the cast as the action is interspersed with comedy, music and movement. The players are a mixture of well-known faces and New Vic newbies. Hugo plays roles of both German officer Huber and a masterful display as escaper Bob while Pollard plays leading officers from both the German and British sides and David Fairs is excellent as Giesler. Perry Moore (Fritz) and Nicholas Richardson (Landry) also made welcome returns with fine performances.

All of the newcomers – Sam Craig (CJ), Andrius Gaucas (Janacek), Dominic Thorburn ( excellently cast as the stiff upper lip serial escaper Ballard) and Eddy Westbury (Lucky Jimmy) – will surely be welcomed back with open arms after very assured performances.

The culmination of the play concentrates on Bob’s escape attempt and this encapsulates the success of the play. The tension of his flight through Occupied Europe is brilliantly captured by Director Theresa Heskins. The atmosphere is cranked up by clever use of music and movement directed by James Atherton and Beverley Norris-Edmunds respectively and there is very effective use of lighting and sound by Daniella Beattie and Alex Day.

The New Vic has once again provided its audiences with an excellent production that uses every inch of its space to portray the action. With laugh out loud moments, audience participation and a story vividly brought to life, this was a joy for the audience who responded with a standing ovation. A world premiere brought to life by a team that is world-beating in its field.

Tom, Dick and Harry has a running time of approximately 2 hours 45 minutes with interval and continues until July 9th. For ticket information tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk or 01782 717962