THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford
Straw bales, actors mingling with the audience, bunting and kitbags, VADs in the onstage band.
We start with that old cliché, the glorious summer of 1914, with cricket on the village green. But Phil Porter's wonderful family play, directed faultlessly by Erica Whyman, moves swiftly from pastoral to warfare – the cricketing metaphor, with the great scorer stage left, is well sustained both physically and dramatically.
At the heart of the drama is Bruce Bairnsfather. His wry cartoon sketches of life at the front are iconic – it's less well known that he was a local lad, working at the Shakespeare Theatre as a sparks for a time. Joseph Kloska makes him a quietly strong character, holding the show together with his love of “songs, sketches, boys dressing up ...”
An impressive ensemble plays the soldiers – on both sides of No Man's Land – as well as the nurses who provide some conflict of their own, rebelling against the harsh, old-fashioned matron.
We've seen a lot of the Great War on stage this year. This warm-hearted play pulls no punches about the grim reality, but still manages to be a hugely enjoyable seasonal treat.