Carrie’s War

Posted on: 20 July 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Carrie’s War which has been adapted for the stage from Nina Bowden’s much loved children’s book at the Apollo Theatre.

One and a half million people were evacuated from Britain’s major cities to other parts of the country at the outbreak of the Second World War as these individuals were considered the most likely targets for German bombing raids or attempted invasions.  Evacuees included disabled people, nursing mothers and children.  The children were told to turn up at school with their suitcase, gas mask and enough food to last a day.  They were issued with labels bearing their name and school, but were not told where they were going.

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Take advantage of our fantastic special offer and get hold of top price tickets to see Carrie’s War, starring Prunella Scales and Kacey Ainsworth at the Apollo Theatre for just £19.50 by clicking here.

Carrie Willow was one such individual and her experiences are recounted in Carrie’s War (Apollo Theatre) which has been adapted for the stage from Nina Bowden’s much loved children’s book (based on her own experiences as an evacuee) by Emma Reeves in a funny, poignant and involving production directed by Andrew Loudon.

Packed off from London to the Welsh mining valleys with her younger brother Nick, the young Carrie has to learn to adjust to life without her parents – under the guardianship of the dictatorial Mr Evans, a local councillor and the owner of a grocery shop, and his younger sister, the kind Auntie Lou, while his older estranged sister, Mrs Gotobed lives nearby but is living her last days.

Returning as an adult with her son, Carrie’s memories come alive and we are transported on a fascinating journey into the past when Carrie learns about human atrocities from pagan rituals to the slave trade and when the supernatural poses a potent threat.  The real and mystical are constantly interwoven as Carrie struggles to understand the secrets of the people she meets.  There’s the ‘old religion’, mentioned by Auntie Lou, the witch-like skills of ‘wise woman’ Hepzibah and of course the curse of the skull…

Where Carrie’s War differs from many more familiar tales of wartime evacuees is that the characters are drawn with elegant economy, lovingly shaded and beautifully rounded, replete with the complexities, vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies that underlie us all.  But this is no mere character study, it is a ghost story, a mystery, a romance and a piece of social history.
Edward Lipscomb’s realistic, multi-purpose set serves as a living room, bedroom, the magical world of Druid’s Grove offering a partial escape for the young people, and the setting for a funeral.

I must admit my heart initially sank when I discovered that adult actors were playing children but under Andrew Loudon’s excellent direction they actually make us believe they are children, aided by first class performances from Sarah Edwardson as Carrie Willow, James Joyce as Nick Willow and Carrie’s son, and John Heffernan as Albert Sandwich, a fellow evacuee whom the children befriend.  They are strongly supported by Sion Tudor Owen as Mr Evans, Prunella Scales as the dying Mrs Gotobed, Kacey Ainsworth as Auntie Lou, Amanda Symonds as Hepzibah Green, the housekeeper, and James Beddard as the simple Mr Johnny, the victim of cruel bullying by Mr Evans’ soldier son.

This then is a play which vividly captures the experience of evacuation – the journey into the unknown, the stress of living with strangers, the distrust, uncertainty and fear – but also the sense of adventure and the adaptability of children faced with a changing world that offers a valuable lesson to today’s younger generation.

By Laurence Green

Where: Apollo Theatre

When: Plays until September 12

Box Office: 0844 412 4658

Take advantage of our fantastic special offer and get hold of top price tickets to see Carrie’s War, starring Prunella Scales and Kacey Ainsworth at the Apollo Theatre for just £19.50 by clicking here.

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