"I left wanting the whole festival to know about your show and wishing everyone could see it...clear, honest, intelligent acting. I was riveted...the condensed quality of the play - nothing unnecessary - was like a focused beam."
"This is a piece of drama that doesn't just show us the planet, it seems to encompass the complete issues of the planet! She can talk about a whole world of subjects in a few lines. The breadth of this piece is huge."
"Extreme poignancy and heights of mirth. Genuinely left not knowing whether I was laughing or crying. And finding the peacefulness between the two was what I ended up with. Enlightened stuff."
"gritty, wonderfully written and delightful to watch"
"intelligent, emotionally charged"
'splendid...moving and much more'
'a charming watch' *** Fringe Hub
'intricate and clever...a touching tale' *** Fringe Guru
"It's once the song-and-dance numbers kick in that the show really hits its stride. Performer Harry Child, expands into his role the moment he begins to sing – and with a rich voice matched by a confident swagger, it's easy to picture him as the young Basil Hallam. The songs are neatly matched to episodes in the present-day tale, and they culminate in the mandatory uplifting audience sing-along, embraced with heart by all present on the day I attended.
There's one further figure in the music-hall scenes: performer Elsie Janis, who Sue often references and occasionally steps into character to play. Janis takes the back seat to Hallam – just as this is Jack's story more than Sue's – but we learned about her practical courage in organising a tour of wartime France, an anecdote which whetted my appetite for more..... The relationship between Sue and Jack forms the play's emotional heart. They don't quite understand each other, but it's clear that they love each other. My eyes were a little misty at the end of it… for Basil, for Jack, and for memories of the days when I too was twenty-one." Richard Stamp Fringe Guru
Behind The Lines earned 4* from us for each of their past two productions - All The Nice Girls and yesterday's Sure Choice, Deep In The Heart Of Me. This one sounds a bit different though: a mother-and-son collaboration, it's a semi-autobiographical show tackling war, non-conformism, elections – and an old-time forces sweetheart. It remains to be seen what this all adds up to, but on past form we can expect an unconventional story whose tenderness belies a sharper edge. Fringe Guru
Review - Fringe Review
Not so much another First War narrative but a parallel rediscovery of singalong music, song and dance, stars and tears in their eyes. Alison Child’s an emerging dramatist from the Royal Court scheme, and this lightly fictive account of a mother/son research duo delves into and develops a show on a post-Edwardian and wartime double act: Basil Hallam and Elsie Janis. This Behind the Lines production is directed by Rosie Wakley with technical assistance from Katy Brecht this is an excellent use of video, including singalong cues and plangent photos. And we’re treated to rap music interludes created for the show by Louie Le Vack. It’s a pretty snug fit against Edwardian music hall.
We’re hurled from a video with inset of mother Sue (Alison chid) badgering reluctant son Jack (Harry Child) out of his NEET (Not in Employment Education or Training) stupor full of Call of Duty wargames to join her in a research project on the lives and careers of the two stars who obsess her. It’s clear the highly-educated Sue has provoked a backlash in her son, who mildly resents her gay lifestyle and friends after the end of her marriage, and bucks against being buckled into jacket tails and top hat.
His transformation into the privileged Basil Hallam and Sue into Ohio-born Elsie Janis – promised girlfriends for this role don’t materialise – shifts from blokey Brighton Mockney to a ghostly elegance, which strengthens. The Hallam narrative Gilbert the Filbert is the Edwardian dandy, insouciant, blasé, confident of sexual conquest. He’s the Nut with a K – ‘Knut’s a byword for elegance though it’s Danish, curiously woven into musical hall.
I first came across it voice-recording the diaries of an old friend Leo Wheeler a First War pilot, recounting his life after he was shot down by Richtofen’s circus in 1917. ‘Quite the Knut’ he recalled and in 1978 I only grasped through context. ‘Nut with a K’ he explained affably. What? The Knut’s dressiness filtered the Filbert to a German POW camp I was told. Jack quips ‘K for Ketamine’ too and we get a blast of rap – it’s refreshing when Hallam’s world is striated with the music of a century on but underlines affinities: flaneurs and wit.
Jack initially provides a non-online Apprentice-style summary of Hallam at his mother’s behest. He draws identifying parallels, photos of both in football garb, choirs, singers (this is where of course the real Harry Childs is in no way a NEET). It’s neatly apposite video footage. Jack’s in no way entirely seduced yet. His Fall of Duty however ripples meanings throughout this cleverly-realised narrative.
The double act Hallam performed with Elsie Janis an American born a month before him (in 1889) came about through this pushy-but-warm star – who survived her own mother’s pushiness – saw in Hallam a perfect double-act. Gay herself, she joked with Hallam that more girls came to the stage door for her, not him. It’s one of those side-lights flickering tolerance in some millieux we don’t celebrate enough.
This is where Alison Child’s relaying information briefly becomes a lecture. Hallam’s is interrupted with twitting of mother and son; badinage undercuts info with chirpy parallels.
The war changed everything, Janis risking everything to come and entertain troops on the very Lusitania later notoriously sunk with 1200 dead, but Hallam despite a steel plate in his foot was turned down for service. With a regular military elder brother winning DSOs he knew he didn’t fit. However after enough white feathers and hate mail, he maanged to make the Royal Flying Corps and perilous balloons.
We’ve seen these aerial shots before, Sue trying to make Jack see the beauty of the earth or aerial shots of World War One. Jack heads off after a series of girls (all Lara, Kara, or Zara) prove frustrating. It’s a neat crisis. sue knows he’s big enough, he’s joined the army perhaps and he comes bouncing back after an interregnum where Sue recounts more background. He has more aerial footage and news of Hallam.
It seemed mid-show this might earn a decent recommendation with a few clunks. It shifts however. Tightness of video, the engagement of audience and extremely well-counterpointed denouement makes this a memorable show. And did I mention the Childs can sing? It’s very triple-threat in a tiny room. Harry’s got West End form, but Alison’s high light soprano is excellent, their song and dance recapturing musical hall pranks with canes genuinely conjures that world. It’s an extremely tight show, and Wakley and Brecht too must be congratulated for pacing it so well. The poet Edward Young once wrote ‘tis only solid bodies polish well’ and it’s to be hoped with a few more finessings this will gleam into the small, real gem it is.
Published May 13, 2017 by Simon Jenner
FALL OF DUTY
'Fall of Duty' is a new play by Alison Child, directed by Rosie Wakley.
1916 An actor falls from the sky in Northern France. A hundred years on can Sue and her son Jack, 20, escape political turmoil and an addiction to infinite warfare? Four people thrust together by war, song, reality and escapism, but pulled apart by a century. The true story of Basil Hallam and Forces’ sweetheart, lesbian, Elsie Janis, recreating ‘Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with the ‘k’’.
I'm Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with a K
The pride of Piccadilly the blasé roué
Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert the Colonel of the Knuts.
You may look upon me as a waster, what?
But you ought to see how I fag and swot
For I'm called by two, and by five I'm out
Which I couldn't do if I slacked about
Then I count my ties and I change my kit
And the exercise keeps me awfully fit
Once I begin I work like sin
I'm full of go and grit.
Basil’s co-star. Elsie Janis "Night after night Elsie would be greeted at the stage door of the Palace Theatre by well wishers who mobbed her car and insisted on pushing it in a triumphant procession to her hotel. One evening from out of the crowd came a low voice, “Mademoiselle Janis, vous étiez épatante au jour d’hui.” Elsie called to the girl. She ran across the street dodging a bus and was invited to come backstage after the upcoming Saturday matinee. That’s how legendary theatrical lesbian Eva Le Gallienne walked into Elsie’s life." *
Elsie was the first women to write, direct and star in her own silent movie. She features in the ‘Gay and Lesbian Theatrical Legacy’, ‘Queer Readings of American Players in American Theatre History’. And Tallulah Bankhead’s autobiography. Don't think I don't want to explore Elsie, son, because I do. There's lots to explore!"
*From Queer Readings of American Players in American Theatre History" Kim Marra (Editor), Robert A. Schanke (Editor)
Supported by the English Department and the Centre for Every Day Lives at War, at the University of Hertfordshire, the National Lottery and the Arts Council.