Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Pair of Cold War dramas

Pair of Cold War dramas

TWO plays due to be performed in Henley before the coronavirus pandemic have become topical since being rescheduled.

Tales from Star City and The Letter of Last Resort focus on different elements of the Cold War, the period of hostility between East and West after the Second World War until the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early Nineties.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has prompted the creative team behind the productions to donate all profits from the performances at the Kenton Theatre to the charity War Child. Tales from Star City by Dan Dawes is about an idealistic young woman, Polina, played by Christina Baston, working as a radio technician in the Sixties in the early days of the Space Race programme within the Soviet Union.

As the risks of space travel become clearer, she faces questions about ethics and her own feelings of empathy versus the need to do her job.

Dan says: “She ends up in Russia and falls in love with the communist utopian dream but realises through her work that actually that dream is perverted and corrupted by people, power and politics.”

Dan, who wrote the play in 2018, says: “I’d wanted to write it for a while as it was rattling around my head.

“A theatre that I’d worked at previously had a last-minute cancellation and said, ‘Can you put a show together in three weeks?’ and I said ‘yes’.

“I never imagined that I’d be sitting here talking about it four years later, especially with regards to current events.

“Any drama will have issues and themes pertinent to today and it’s our job as theatre-makers to make things relevant. I like to think it was already a play that had resonance but not with quite the same level of urgency as at the moment.”

Dan performed in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Kenton 10 years ago and again in the pantomime Robin Hood in 2017.

“I played a character called Guy of Gisbourne and I looked like a giant orange pimple,” he says.

There is some light relief in Tales from Star City too.

“It does explore the brightest and darkest elements of space,” says Dan. “There’s a lot of positives in there. Polina starts listening to American radio stations and Brenda Lee and has a bit of a dance around the space.”

The Letter of Last Resort by David Greig looks at the Cold War from Britain’s side of the Iron Curtain.

A new female prime minister is celebrating her first night in office when an aide says that one of her first tasks is to set out certain contingency plans. This raises a series of moral dilemmas for the new leader.

Lisa Day, who plays the prime minister says: “One of her tasks is to write a letter that goes into the safe of a nuclear submarine that is always circulating ready to take action in the event that the world is being obliterated and do they retaliate or not, hence the letter of last resort. That is a massive ask for your first night in office.”

The aide is played by Lisa’s husband, Robert Gordon Clark, who helps the PM.

Lisa says: “His role is to advise or steer me through the kind of ethical, moral and logistical dilemmas of whether I write ‘retaliate’ or ‘don’t retaliate’, or some other option.

“I go through a lot of angst. To write ‘retaliate’ is a war crime and it’s horrific, it’s a foul option, but to write ‘don’t retaliate’ renders the whole multi-
billion pound nuclear project valueless. It’s kind of agonising — what do I do, what do I write, what do I not write?”

Despite this bleakness, Lisa says the play has some tongue-in-cheek moments: “At one point, there’s a reference to it being a little bit like Yes, Prime Minister,” she says. “It is explicitly self-referential about how absurd this whole thing is.”

Tales from Star City and The Letter of Last Resort, a Cold War double bill, is at the Kenton Theatre on Sunday at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced on a “pay what you want” basis (plus a £1.50 booking fee) with all profits going to War Child. The shows have a total running time of 135 minutes with a 20-minute interval. For more information and to buy tickets, call the box office on (01491) 525050 or visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk

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