A night to remember

One Night in November

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

*****

IN its fourth year and second venue, this amazing production is a poignant retelling of Blitz night in Coventry, 14 November 1940.

It tells the story of a memorable, infamous, night in a personal way that puts flesh back on the bones of the bald narrative that 70 years passage has made of this part of Coventry’s history.

It is well worth seeing on many, many levels. It starts as a simple burgeoning love story between narrator Katie Stanley (Charlotte Richie) and Michael Green (Jason Langley), a Jewish Birmingham boy, necessarily secretive about his work, with a meeting on Henley-in-Arden station with the simple but telling chat-up line – a corker – ‘Would you like some chocolate?’: but also as a time in Coventry’s history when the Phoenix city earned its stripes.

As a love story it is as doomed as our city – Michael works at Bletchley Park as a code-breaker with man-eater Sheila Arbuthnot (Verity Kirk) and as such has the inside story on Luftwaffe plans for Coventry but it is considered treasonable to let anyone know.

It is Katie’s birthday and though the Stanley family has planned to go to Henley-in-Arden to stay with Auntie Vi, they wait for Michael who tries to phone, steals a car and arrives in Coventry in the thick of it.

He accidentally meets up with American Press Association intrepid war reporter (Verity Kirk) intent on showing her American readers the horrors of war. The night in November starts with the most realistic noise of a bomb exploding at too-close-for-comfort proximity.

It’s a gruesome tale but bears retelling. It tickled me that Jack the Communist plays Monopoly in the bomb shelter. But Katie and her younger sister, the buoyant Joanie (Helen Coles) lose their mother Margaret (Sanchia McCormack) that night.

Their father Jack (James Hornsby) Communist shop steward in the aircraft industry and the girls are left heartbroken. Michael is also left broken by his certain knowledge that Coventry has been sacrificed for a higher ideal.

Horror upon horror is heaped on the family but as friend and ARP man Ken (Barry Aird) remarks at the end, ‘You can kick a man when he’s down but he’ll get up again’.

The staging is simple and gripping with projection backdrops that enliven the story – from bomber’s moon to the Cathedral burning.

The final scene, with the use of shoes to commemorate the dead, is very moving. This is a great production, written by Alan Pollock and directed by Hamish Glen, that warrants its annual revival and I hope it becomes as traditional as the panto. To 19-10-13.

Jane Howard 

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