Review: Clare Hollingworth and the Scoop of The Century @Exeter Phoenix

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Important, funny and playful entertainment for the whole family.

To mark 80 years since the start of WW2, PaddleBoat Theatre Company, an Exeter-based group of devising performers working with children in schools, are touring a production focusing on the often forgotten Clare Hollingworth. She was the first person to report from Poland that the German tanks were at the border, ready to invade. Her ‘scoop’, uncredited mind you, became front page news all over the UK. In this hour-long, interactive and high-energy show, the company displays great understanding of the forms they present.

The narrative starts with Hollingworth’s upbringing in Leicester, her rejection of traditional female roles, and her interest in writing. I was delighted to note she studied in Croatia before writing for the Daily Telegraph and reporting from Poland. Her many misadventures include ‘borrowing’ the car of the British Ambassador and her work on the undeserved bad treatment by the British Army in Cairo, which led her to join the American forces and learn to fly a plane. The topics covered are dark and challenging but are treated with the utmost respect. It is so important to talk about the horrific experiences of Jewish refugees in WW2, the patriarchal powers which prevent women from occupying certain roles, and the significance of the truth and facts.

Katy Dash, the company’s Artistic Director, takes on the titular role and is the only member of the company not to multi-role. Michel Smith and Stuart Cottrell start the show by asking individuals in the audience for their news, which included a haircut and a planned visit to the park. The pair then incorporate this information into the opening scene, which focuses on explaining journalism and what makes a good news story. Hattie Brown provides piano accompaniment, adding a delightful depth to the play with music and sound effects. All four performers must be applauded for their engaging enthusiasm and unrelenting energy.

Their simple costumes are effective, with further indicative items successfully used to humorously enhance character, such as an apron for the domestic science teacher and a coat for the army general. The biggest triumph of the show, however, must be the surprising and innovative set, which almost becomes a fifth actor. A wooden panel at the back of the stage becomes a plethora of settings, the suitcases turn into an effective car and the piano into a plane. It is imaginative and exploratory.

However, there are a few features which do not work as effectively as the rest of the show. At points the actors lip sync to radio speeches from the time, such as the Prime Minister and Hitler. These are moments of disconnect due to the relatively quiet sound and muffled tone. Furthermore, there are also issues with the significance of the physical representation of Hitler.

Regardless of these tiny factors, the show as a whole works really well and I would have loved a full crowd of people which this production deserves. If you see any more shows by PaddleBoat advertised, go. If they are any bit as good as Clare Hollingworth and the Scoop of the Century, you’re in luck.

Josip Martinčić

 

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