"Icelandic WWII Coming of Age"
by Laura Kressly for remotegoat on 06/03/15

They say all girls love a man in uniform. The young women in 1940 Reykjavik are no different. They certainly enjoy the company of the young British lads occupying the city to protect them from the Germans. The rest of the city exploits the financial benefits of a 25,000-strong population increase with money to spend and no fear of imminent attack. The war is particularly prosperous for husband and wife Julia and David, their daughter Selma and niece Kate. David runs a kiosk selling cigarettes to the boys, Julia mends their uniforms, Kate helps with the kiosk and Selma...well, she has sex with soldiers for money.

This production uses Brechtian staging, a capella singing, and two languages to share the wartime ups and downs of ingénue Kate (Rianna Dearden) after her move to the big city. She begins bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of countryside innocence. After becoming embroiled in her cynical cousin Selma’s (Olivia Hirst) secretive exploits, experiencing love, loss and sexual assault, Kate quietly, but sadly, matures. The girlish enthusiasm and wonder is gone. Selma does not have such an extreme emotional journey, but must face the consequences of her actions and discover they affect her family as well as her. Life starts out swimmingly, full of good intentions, but eventually collapses under the pressures of wartime.

Dearden’s and Hirst’s performances strikingly contrast each other, exploring the complexities of a close familial relationship similar to that of siblings. Mother Julia (Anna Nicholson), envious of the girls’ youth, encourages them to take up with the soldiers. Father David (Chris Woodley) tries to keep the family together and make a good living from his business endeavors. Fifth performer Alex Dowding plays several soldier characters, including Kate’s boyfriend, Rob. Despite the serious subject matter, Dowding skillfully uses comedy multirolling akin to that in the West End's "39 Steps." Woodley also multiroles as neighbour Benni, who is in love with Selma and ruthlessly tries to claim her.

Using bare-bones set and lighting emphasizes the performances and the characters’ relationships. Props are used sparingly, but effectively. Bits of paper are snow, a wooden crate is the kiosk and a sofa, and a leaf blower comically captures the constant wind in wintertime Reykjavik. The actors never leave the stage; they hand each other costume pieces, props and operate the leaf blower whenever a door opens or the characters are outside.

The play’s energy is excited, anticipatory and high-paced. This could be slowed down more in moments of high emotion in order to have a stronger effect, but it is a minor issue. The performance runs for an hour but certainly has scope for development into a full-length piece of theatre.The performances are excellent and energetic, but the parental characters would have benefited being played by older actors.

Lost Watch certainly is certainly a company to follow. "Kate" is an excellent example of new writing in fringe theatre using confident performances, a clever use of space and imaginative storytelling of unique subject matter.

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