Instructions to American Servicemen in Britain – Review

It’s a bit of an overworked concept but the intrinsic difference between Americans and us Brits can always be guaranteed to raise a smile.

We may have colonised the place but since the 18th century they have developed their own, often unique and skewed, version of reality, time and events.

Now take the war. Which war? Well, both major 20th Century conflicts, but Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, a jolly educational comedy just opened at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre, tackles that particularly tricky cove, them over here while we go about winning the Second World War.

There really was a leaflet printed in 1942 to give the Yanks some idea about what to expect when they found themselves stationed in dear old Blighty.

And it features all the usual suspects – our weather, food, drink, language, money and class.

The pamphlet’s advice has been turned into a fringe hit for comedy trio, The Real MacGuffinsJames Millard, Matt Sheahan and Dan March – and improv comedy troupe Fol Espoir.

The show includes a lot of audience participation, so be warned. Trying to stand up and Morris Dance in the tiny confines of the Jermyn Street Theatre is especially tricky.

But it is a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours. There are some genuinely funny moments including an explanatory talk from a terribly nice chap called Major Randolph Gibbons (Sheahan), dressed like an oversized boy scout, about the monetary system.

And we’re talking pre-decimal here. There was such a stink created when the country ditched its old money but, listening to him explain it, I can’t understand why we had ever adopted it in the first place.

March plays a bear of an American Colonel, called Marion Atwood, who doesn’t suffer fools and fails to comprehend most of Gibbons’ oddball Wodehousian expressions.

He doesn’t want to be here, can’t stand the weather and has no idea how to communicate.

Trying to mediate between the two sides is sunnyside up Lieutenant Gene Schultz. Say: “Hi Gene,” he says. “Hygiene is very important.” We all groan.

The ever affable Schultz (Millard) does his best but war is looming between Atwood and Gibbons, made worse by the unexpected arrival of the latter’s wife (Millard again).

It’s all very silly and, I admit it, it made me laugh. This sort of fringe comedy relies entirely on your sense of humour and it tickled my funny bone.

There’s nothing particularly original in this cultural exchange but the three actors are good at playing the stereotypes that we know so well.

There are also a few sight gags and one that did, literally, make me gag.

Instructions runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until July 29.

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