Milena Borden has reviewed the play Happy Warriors that opened last week in a North London theatre:
James Macdonald’s new play staged in the Upstairs at The Gatehouse theatre is inspired by the Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill’s Second World War mission to Yugoslavia in the autumn of 1944. The venue is the charming 16thcentury Highgate village pub just under two and a half miles away from Waugh’s family home on 145 North End Road.
The scene is the farmhouse in Topusko where their stormy friendship escalates to a comical antagonism fueled by the angry local cook, Zora Panic. The script follows closely the well-documented wartime episode, with the name of Fitzroy Maclean who was the head of the mission dropped more then once during the two acts. Details such as Waugh’s “camel-hair dressing gown”, the £50 Bible reading bet and the box of Havana cigars sent from London seem to have been borrowed from the Earl of Birkenhead’s memoir “Fiery Articles” in “Evelyn Waugh and His World” (1973: 137). The pattern of the play is a circle of a dialogue with the two main heroes going back to where they started, unable to escape the hilarious agony of cohabiting in territory controlled by Tito’s partisans in Croatia.
Simon Pontin as Randolph and Martha Dancy as Zora managed to provoke laughter in the audience of around 30 people and a smile of approval from the playwright who attended the Preview night. The mantle of being Waugh falls upon the shoulders of Neil Chinneck, a young London actor, who attempts to blend wit and satire into the character by threatening to kill Randolph and himself. He achieves a decent presentation of Waugh at war, although it is somewhat dry in expression and wiry in appearance.
The German bombardment effects work well together with the décor of the bare village room and Winston Churchill’s portrait on the wall. The choice of Vera Lynn’s songs as a musical background adds to the vitality of the performance. But it is the total lack of pretense that seems to be the main merit of the play.
The play continues through 22 April. See earlier post for details.