Blitz! King's Theatre

Blitz! *** King's TheatreA WONDERFUL element of local theatre is the risk that small companies are at liberty to take.

With an army of volunteers willing to put their all into something new and a healthy dose of imagination, it's possible to stage just about anything.

And, although it doesn't come across as impossible to present, the sheer scale of depicting air raids and multiple scene shifts has been a major stumbling block in the plans of many producers putting on the Blitz.

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Indeed, in its 1962 heyday, the show was the most expensive ever developed for London's Theatre Land.

Not so for the Southern Light Opera Company, however, who spent last night entertaining the troops at the King's in this on budget Lionel Bart classic.

Centred on the lives of two families surviving the Second World War on Petticoat Lane, Blitz is one-quarter romance , three-quarters celebration of the spirit that got Britain through those long dark nights in Anderson shelters and on tube station floors.

Unapologetically stealing the show, and having a ball in the process, was lead Dorothy Johnstone as the indomitable East End matriarch Mrs Blitztein. While the meddling mother of beautiful Carole and wayward Harry was given a run for her money in Margo Dunn's cameo as Mrs Josephs, there were few performances that could touch the character's verve. But then, Mrs Blitztein does get all the best lines.

Gary Gray's gruff turn as crotchety Cockney nemesis Alfred Locke complimented Johnstone's wailing Jewess and rubbed along nicely with Alan Hunter's endearingly doddery Ernie Nearmiss.

Bart's script pushes the younger characters to the margins of the show somewhat and left Gaynor Boe's Carole and Alan Gow's Georgie to work hard at creating a convincing romance in the short time they had together. Timmy Drew's Harry also had a challenge to make his character cheeky enough to get away with saucy finale Duty Calls, although Elspeth Smith's Elsie comfortably helped smooth the way.

Where Bart excels is his gift for an exceptional ensemble of characters, sparing room for Choreographer Louise Williamson and Director Andy Johnston to go to town with dance routines, comic asides and a host of adorable evacuee extras. David McFarlane's Musical Direction kept the cast going through some challenging key and lyric changes mid-song too.

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The show's scenes successfully revolved through a number of difficult venues, from Petticoat Lane to Bank tube station and a bombing or two.

Strangely, the set changes held up well with all the demands placed on them until the show's most dramatic moment, in the first act. Which, far from the jolt it's meant to create, turns more into a damp squib off stage. An event made even more perplexing by a great Joyce Grenfell off stage moment with the young evacuees as they leave for the country.

The pacing of the show is somewhat thrown off by this and there are scenes that feel under-rehearsed, stilted and in need of a dose of comic TLC.

But then, it's nothing that can't be easily sorted with a singsong round the Joana and a pint in hand.