Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

bunkered cast

Our intrepid guardians of the 1970s discover Scrabble is no game for the faint hearted . . . or claustrophobic . . . with Paul Holtom (left) as Harry, Jon Richardson as Peter. Louise Price as Joan, Jess Donnelly as Taylor, Sheila Parks as Mags and Ben Hurd-Greenall getting twitchy as Connor. Pictures: Roy Palmer.


Hall Green Little Theatre


Well, there is the chief petty officer, he's the one in the wedding frock, Harry the anarchist, a leading member of his anarchist organisation, the irony of that being lost on him, Syd, the geriatric pigeon who died in the line of duty and then an ancient Japanese computer with a penchant for creating international incidents.

And it all takes place in a Government intelligence bunker, a listening post so secret even the Government doesn’t know about it . . . sort of.

You see the secret facility was set up as part of a chain of such posts to spot Russian subs in our territorial waters at the height of the cold war in the 1970s; then came Gorbachev and glasnost, and by 1991 the cold war was over and the posts were all decommissioned and staff redeployed or made redundant. All except this one.

Not that this one was anything special, or still an operational requirement, it just, sort of got forgotten, slipped under the sonar, so to speak, decommissioned as far as the right hand was concerned but no one had mentioned it to the paymasters who lived in blissful ignorance on the left hand, so it didn’t exist except in the wages office somewhere hidden away on some dog-eared card index that time had forgot.

So, the pay checks arrived every month, no one bothered them and all is well for 20 odd years until Chief Petty Officer Peter brings in Harry, an old school friend, to bring the long dormant electronics back to life.

Harry, is an outstanding electrician and an even more outstanding eccentric from the what the heck is he on school of assorted nutters.

The only problem from this outbreak of restoration being that once operational again, the equipment is back on 1972 war footing. And that means innocent underwater offshore work is detected and designated possible enemy activity by the elderly sonar, which in turn stirs the bits and bytes of the ancient computer which, as it is programmed to do, alerts HQ, who didn’t even know it existed, and all hell breaks loose.

harry and peter

A blindfolded Harry arrives at the secret location led by Peter

Jon Richardson’s Peter is a bit of a worrier, mainly about his pension and he wants everything shipshape just in case there is an official visit or contact for his impending, and tentatively still hoped for retirement, hence the arrival of Harry. Hoped for as if he only exists as a mistake will he exist enough to retire with a pension.

Harry, meanwhile, is a sort of domesticated anarchist in the hands of Paul Holtom, happy to condemn the capitalist elite and rail against Government spying, making his stand mainly on a little visited corner of the internet.

HIs major, indeed only, acts of defiance seems to be not voting and, more pertinent here, refusing to sign the official secrets act in the bunker as he repairs what is essentially Government spying equipment. Told you he doesn’t get irony.

In charge of this bastion of our defences is Joan, who, in the workmanlike hands of Louise Price, comes in each day, nine to five, and keeps herself busy doing . . . well housework really – suppose it should be called bunkerwork. She’s Harry’s sister and has kept her secret job from her “idiot brother” all this time.

There is also Mags, played by Sheila Parkes, who was in rehearsals for this play at Billesley Players when the curtain came down on that society. Mags is in the midst of creating a wedding dress for her niece, hence Peter’s need as a model for the fitting. She has an unfortunate family, or at least an unfortunate sister and niece, who have been affected more than most by a steady stream out from the closet by a list of dishy celebrities.

Her husband is Bill, played in absentia for much of the time by Richard Woodward. Bill is dying, or at least claims to be, suffering from manflu, or as wives call it, a cold.

Bill looks after and now breeds the generations of royal naval carrier pigeons stationed at the bunker, the last line of communications, and is dragged out of bed by leading pigeon Syd when the full bunker lockdown is initiated, and he is needed to open the door. The lockdown is . . . well its all to do with protocol, you need to see it to find out.

Now, have we mentioned the invasion by the armed marines? Well, two of them at least, sent there to investigate the invasion of a decommissioned bunker, and they were none too sure about finding the senior NCO in a frock.

bill and commodore

Richard Woodward's Bill, in his pyjamas having been dragged from his sickbed on a rescue mission, stands to attention with the rest of the crew - the unconscious Connor now slumped to attention - at the entrance of Debbie Donnelly's Commodore Shelton

There’s sub lieutenant Connor played by Ben Hurd-Greenall, who is full of military efficiency, until the door closes and we discover why he had to leave the submarine service, and Jess Donnelly as recruit Taylor, the least inept, apparently, of Connor’s 50 or so useless recruits he is in charge of training.

Taylor it seems is an expert at unarmed combat, leaving a man unconscious in the flash of an eye, the panicked claustrophobic Connor in this case, and she is also a dab hand at explosives.

With Britain now on a war footing it needs Commodore Shelton in the form of Debbie Donnelly to come down from HQ to sort it out, which she manages with aplomb. A plan is hatched, agreed, all is well with the world and everyone leaves to live happily ever after, possibly on medication in Connor’s case . . . except no one told the sonar and ancient computer about the plan . . . and they are still operating, still listening and still at war which gives us a bit of an Ooops ending.

Throughout the play we are privy to the panic and confusion the geriatric electronics are causing, listening in to telephone calls, the voices of Judith Taylor and Esther Roden, among the Navy intelligence units as a blast from the past sends war footing alerts.

Lynn Brittney’s script has a few holes in it, so best not to look too closely at details, but it has some splendidly funny lines highlighting the strange eccentricities of the British. If you think it couldn’t happen . . . during the war at the height of the blitz a well known Birmingham Company paid a section of its workforce a weekly bonus for firewatching duty. Each shift a rota of members would be on the roof with extinguishers on the look out for incendiaries dropped by German bombers or embers spread from nearby attacks.

In 1972 when I arrived, some 30 years after the war, the weekly payments were still being made . . .

It is a comedy with a gentle pace and director Christine Bland has kept it that way. After all you don’t keep a secret for 20 odd years by shouting and rushing about, while Roy Palmer’s set design has that look of RN décor of the 1970s. A mention too for Tal Bainbridge’s lighting which has to cope with lockdowns, Harry’s work on the electrics and the odd alarm to signify we could be at war (sound Roy Palmer).

The result is a relaxing evening of gentle escapism with plenty of laughs and light relief from what has been a difficult few days and months. To  24-09-22

Roger Clarke


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