Kate McNab and Ross Harvey bring wartime Britain to life

Last night I thought I heard a nightingale singing in Berkeley Square. In reality I heard Kate McNab singing Manning Sherwin and Eric Maschwitz’s A Nightingale Sang In Berkely Square in Doodlebugs and Bogeymen in Bristol’s Alma Tavern and Theatre.

Much has been written of Kate McNab’s voice since she appeared in the jazz group Sweet Harmony back in the day, but the power and versatility of her golden vocals remain undiminished. Whether as sweet-heart Vera Lynn or as a sparkling Carman Miranda Kate’s performance in the five-star show is worth it just for the songs under the direction of Kit Morgan.

Wearing several pairs of underpants and smelling of pilchards Brian Milton arrives at Brimble’s farm at Severn Beach with his sister Jean in 1939 as wartime evacuees from London. Sorry – Ealing.

Approaching 20 years since it was first performed the late Joe Hobbs’ story of the brother and sister’s experiences during the war is full of period detail, wartime jokes and observations and is filled with a ration book of warmth and good humour.

Ross Harvey’s and Kate’s portrayals of young Jean and Brian are so well-tuned, with each tick, each fidget, each expression pure comedy gold, as the duo commit to each of the various personalities they encounter. Ross Harvey as eleven-year-old Brian in his short trousers and school cap doubles up as grumpy but essentially warm-hearted Farmer Brimble as well as the vicar and the comedy turn at the village hall. Kate as Mrs Brimble, the schoolteacher and billeting officer complements the stories based on anecdotal accounts of the real lives of evacuees in Bristol collected by Joe Hobbs which give an authenticity to each of the scenes. There’s a touch of the music hall about some of the sketches with the first half following the children’s journey and the second half more reflective of their experiences.

The Bristol based Ministry of Entertainment show is a mend and make do production with just a few personal props, a chair, a bench and a black box as a space and would no doubt benefit from a larger budget for sets, wartime posters and a supporting cast, but that’s not the point. The waste not want not, dig for victory production fits the wartime frugality of the times and works perfectly in the confines of the Alma’s auditorium.

For younger generations Doodlebugs and Bogeymen is an insight into Britain during the dark and dangerous 1939-45 conflict as seen through a child’s eye. For those who can recall those years or whose parents and grandparents related stories of ration books and shrapnel collections this is a delight.

Harry Mottram

The show runs to Saturday 27 November 2021, at the Alma Tavern and Theatre in Clifton, Bristol.

Tickets: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/almatheatrecompany/572795/

See http://www.ministryofentertainment.co.uk/index.html

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Harry Mottram is the news editor of South Bristol Voice monthly magazine and a freelance journalist. Visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/