EFR - Reviews of National Loaf

National Loaf

Sat 2nd – Sun 17th August 2014

reviews

Tom Gellatly

at 00:58 on 8th Aug 2014

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National Loaf concerns the plight of Captain Johnson (played by Thomas Broadhead) or ‘Johnny’ as he is – much to his frustration – referred to as throughout the play, as he runs the rationing office in a small Northern town during the Second World War. I say ‘plight,’ because the majority of the play sees Johnson playing straight man to the various weird, incompetent townsfolk who bumble through his office throughout the play.

The most impressive of these weird characters is Colonel Huffkins (played by Joey Thurston), Johnson’s superior who has paid an unexpected visit to check that everything is running smoothly at the rationing office. Unsurprisingly, based on Johnson’s amusingly loud assistant, Maggie (played by Jessica Flood) things are not all going as planned. Thurston is brilliant as the disapproving, frightfully upper-class Colonel, delivering some of the play’s funniest lines and doggedly sticking to his wonderfully slimy tic of slicking his moustache. Maggie, too, is a great character, with her loud, well-meaning bellows of ‘SIR!’ punctuating the quieter moments of comedy in perfectly timed bursts.

The small cast is rounded off by Maggie’s mother, Henrietta (played by Hannah Whyman), a domineering lady who puts Johnson and Huffkins in their place throughout, Liz the grocer – whose contraband melon is the catalyst for most of the play’s more traditional ‘action,’ and the funniest performance of the whole production, the upper-class Mollie, played by Laura Witz, who accidentally finds herself in a butcher job. Mollie’s doesn’t have many lines in the play, but every single one is hilarious and hilariously delivered. There is one scene in particular involving a misunderstanding between the wacky Mollie, the upstanding Huffkins and the aloof Maggie that is a joy to watch, as the interplay between the three characters’ equally weird personalities leads to the play’s strongest jokes.

Johnson, too, is a likeable straight man to all of the aforementioned oddballs, looking alternately bemused and defeated at the appropriate moments. The play’s use of its subject matter – the rationing, specifically of bread, that so crippled English morale during the war – is subtle, and the production doesn’t really draw attention to its wartime setting. Rather it uses the war as a vehicle for its gentle, distinctively British comedy.

Overall, other than a deceptively dull opening few minutes, National Loaf is an understated, comforting little comedy that is intractably British in its approach to small towns, tea, the war and, most importantly, good bread.

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Millie Morris

at 02:21 on 8th Aug 2014

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Paradise in the Vault, the location for wartime-set production 'National Loaf', parallels extremely well with the play itself: it is modest, neatly-sized, and has nothing particularly wrong with it. Neither is there anything overwhelmingly spectacular about it.

A play that pursues the effects of rationing after the cutbacks of the second world war does an exceedingly adequate job, and can undoubtedly be called good, yet as I leave I do not quite have the sense of experiencing something exceptional. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that 'National Loaf' is a consistent watch with a few good laughs, and definitely one to visit for a lighter look at a time period which is usually focused on through the lens of love affairs and death.

This one-hour piece by Charlotte Productions whisks us back to the 1940s, refreshingly seeming to limit its concerns only to quality of bread consumed by characters -- which in itself is no small matter, as we will find out. Hannah Whyman as Mrs Baker is quite aptly just that, a baker, and a sly one too. Thomas Broadhead brings to life the charming, albeit hapless and professionally awry Captain Johnson who manoeuvres his dodgy deals with Mrs Baker and Liz, the local grocer selling fruit on the black market. With the arrival of a new Colonel in the Northern regions, we see the comfortable equilibrium of discreet munching and whispers in the dark disturbed, with often humorous consequences.

The acting standard is certainly not rationed, and I am pleased to note a majority-women cast: generally faultless characters are nuanced and accomplished. The clipped tones of each male part perfectly offset the squeaky Cockney voice of Mollie, a woman who fell into the meat industry by accident.The glint in Liz's eye matches Mrs Baker's outspoken dialogue, and as a whole the actors gel extremely well.

The main problem with wartime dramas is this: it is often done well, yet the green jackets, women's neatly sculpted hair and telephone-voices are all too familiar to me. The play is set at a time which has been written, re-written, and written again. However this is, by and large, a good play; with strong acting, comedic moments, and convincing characters, it is definitely worth a watch if you're starting to feel a wartime-drama-shaped hole pervade your life.

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