James Macdonald’s new play staged at the Upstairs of the The Gatehouse is inspired by the Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill’s Second Wolrd War mission to Yugoslavia in the autumn of 1944. The venue is the charming 16th century Highgate village pub just under two and a half miles away from Waugh’s family home on 145 North End Road. The scene is the farmhouse in Topusko where their stormy friendship escalates to a comical antagonism fueled by the angry local cook, Zora Panic. The script followes closely the well documented wartime espisode with the name of Fitzroy Maclean who was the head of the mission dropped more then once during the two acts. Details such as Waugh’s “camel-hair dressing gown”, the £50 Bible reading bet and the box of Havana cigars sent from London seem to have been borrowed from the Earl of Birkenhead’s memoir “Fiery Articles” in “Evelyn Waugh and His World” (1973: 137). The pattern of the play is a circle of a dialogue with the two main heroes going back to where they started unable to escape the hillarious agony of cohabitaning in Tito partisans’ controlled area of Croatia.
Simon Pontin as Randolph and Martha Dancy as Zora managed to provoke laughter in the audience of around 30 people and a smile of approval from the playwright who attended the Preview night. The mantle of being Waugh falls upon the shoulders of Neil Chinneck, a young London actor, who attempts to blend wit and satire into the characher by threatening to kill Randolph and himself. He achives a decent presentation of Waugh at war although it is somewhat dry in expression and wiry in appearnce.
The German bombardment effects work well together with the the décor of the bare village room and Winson Churchill’s portarit on the wall. The choice of Vera Lynn’s songs as a musical background adds to the vitality of the performance. But it is the total lack of pretence that seems to be the main merit of the play.