I’ve been in the wars over the last week and am all the better for it.
Last week saw the opening of the superb WWI drama Regeneration and, on Friday night, I was plunged headlong into a Boy’s Own adventure at Colchester’s splendid Mercury Theatre for Michael Morpurgo’s Friend Or Foe.
Set in World War Two it’s one of those thrilling yarns about plucky young London evacuees who find themselves at the heart of a jolly good mystery.
Friend Or Foe is a charming tale from a master story-teller. It is made more so by the wonderful performances of its cast of five who, between them play 13 characters.
Adults Séan Aydon and Jake Davies return to a childhood of short trousers, Beanos and jam sandwiches to play 11-year-old best friends Tucky and David.
They’re evacuated from London and find themselves in rural Devon. The bewildered boys appear unwanted after the locals have their pick of the new arrivals.
Suddenly farmer Gerry Reynolds bursts into the room and, after much bullying from the boys’ head teacher, reluctantly agrees to take both lads.
It’s a strange world for two chums who hadn’t ever been out of the city but every day brings new challenges and excitement.
One night Plymouth is bombed by the Germans and the boys spot a bomber nosedive into the moor – but will anyone believe them ? And what happens when they make a terrible discovery?
Gosh, it has you on the edge of your seat. Aydon, looking like a young Tommy Steele, is a delight as the cheeky Tucky who finds the true meaning of family living with the Reynolds.
Morpurgo’s story has been beautifully adapted by Daniel Buckroyd who was responsible for the original production which toured in 2011.
There’s a wealth of comedy but also a terribly poignant back-story that makes your heart go out to the two boys (and, indeed, the Reynolds who never got the children they longed for).
Hard-working Nicholas Tizzard shows his versatility by first appearing as a (very) mature schoolboy evacuee, sniveling into a hankie at the thought of being torn from his family.
He then disappears only to return as the blunt-speaking farmer (me’dears) and, later, a very convincing German pilot (excellent accent).
Janet Greaves is brilliantly comical as headteacher, Miss Roberts, chain-smoking over a bilious Tucky on the train journey, before returning as the archetypal motherly farmer’s wife, Anne.
Chris Porter swaps uniforms to play both German and British officers plus a collection of cameos.
It’s a magical story for the whole family. Youngsters will identify with the beautifully observed dialogue of the young boys while parents will enjoy the adult performances.
Director Matthew Cullum has come up with a taut thriller that is fast-paced and not too long for young audiences.
Keith Baker’s ingenious utility set is used for a multitude of settings, from a train station to a piece of moorland complete with river.
While Tom Lishman’s sound effects cleverly bring the action to life.
Friend Or Foe is at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre until September 13.
It’s disappointing that it doesn’t appear to be touring because the play deserves a wider audience.