Moving and tedious? Heart-warming and old-fashioned? This is hot ice and wondrous strange snow, but Nina Bawden's children's novel Carrie's War, one of her most-loved, defies the kind of plodding, literal transposition supplied by adaptor Emma Reeves and director Andrew Loudon.
Carrie and her brother Nick are evacuated to rural Wales while their mother is driving ambulances in Glasgow and father is serving in the Navy. They're taken in by nice Auntie Lou (EastEnders' Kacey Ainsworth) and her repressive councillor brother, played by Sion Tudor Owen.
These mismatched siblings have a third, Mrs Gotobed, who is a Miss Havisham of Druid's Bottom, played by Prunella Scales in permanent anticipation of a deathbed scene which she floats off to complete in the wings, having nearly fallen off the set like Tosca at the Castello Sant'Angelo. Underneath Mrs Gotobed on Edward Lipscomb's split-level design is a jolly old witch called Hepzibah Green (Amanda Symonds) and her disabled distant relative, Mister Johnny, played by the disabled actor James Beddard.
There's a good flashpoint when Mister Johnny is taunted at the hay-making, but the problem with the show is that not much happens and does so without the compensatory elements of a great script or a dramatic structure. As in the book, the older Carrie is revisiting the village 30 years on, and Reeves tweaks the ending to effect a romantic reconciliation with Nick and Carrie's best friend Albert Sandwich (a well-filled performance by John Heffernan).
Otherwise, the show is slow-moving, diluted Under Milk Wood with a handy Welsh singing quartet to cover the gaps ("Bread of Heaven," "All Through the Night" and so on). Matthew Eagland's lighting is mostly haphazard, while John Leonard's sound design requires the actors to lip-synch their voices in a bungled Babel of memory shreds at the end.
Carrie is nicely done by Sarah Edwardson and Nick is all knees and pouting in James Joyce's bolshie interpretation; but their childish acting doesn't correspond to their supposed ages of 12 and 10, and seems too much of a retread of a similar approach in Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills, another tragic war-time idyll.
Nina Bawden was far more successfully represented in the theatre by David Hare's The Permanent Way, a powerful documentary drama about grieving and loss based on the testimony surrounding the Potters Bar rail crash of 2002 in which Nina Bawden, who survived it, lost her husband. Carrie's War is a tale of separation within families, but something that could be so vividly represented in the theatre is merely registered, not explored. "It seems as though we've been here for ever," says Carrie in a letter home, a phrase which certainly echoed a general sentiment in the stalls.
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