One Night in November – Stage Review

Barry Aird as Ken Widdows and Helen Coles   as Joan Stanley in One Night in November - Belgrade Theatre. Photography by Robert Day
Barry Aird as Ken Widdows and Helen Coles as Joan Stanley in One Night in November – Belgrade Theatre. Photography by Robert Day

Agonizingly steeped in sadness, is this play, and I felt so heavy hearted while seeing it in Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre that I’ve been left feeling massively reflective.

A love interest allows an occurring coincidence to link the story-line. A WWII code breaker, employed at Churchill’s Secret Intelligence Headquarters, Bletchley Park, becomes emotionally tied to a Coventrian family of four.

Charlotte Ritchie as Katie in One Night in November-Belgrade Theatre-photography by Robert Day
Charlotte Ritchie as Katie in One Night in November-Belgrade Theatre-photography by Robert Day

The back story in regard to the German bombing raid on Coventry, and the numbness people felt in the after math, is so truthfully conveyed in this piece, that I am again considering why the city chooses to continuously revisit that appallingly painful time in its history.

Coventry’s Blitz Night – I had some in depth prior knowledge about it. I’m from Norwich, which remains a fine example of a medieval city, and is not unlike one that Coventry once was. Poor Coventry, so short on the variation of architectural style that other cities take for granted. Stone, brick work, metal and wood – all gone now – blasted out; burned out; demolished. Over 2,300 houses, factories, shops and premises built pre 1940 (and some a few hundred years before), missing from that city view.

Despite family connections and adopting Coventry as a kind of second home in my heart, I look at it from the outside in and the events of that night and its treatment by the state all seems very raw…still. As Artistic Director, Hamish Glen says ‘this tells the story of a city still scarred by one fateful evening in November’. ‘Still’ being the operative word.

I try to rationalize the significance of this piece of theatrical work in today’s Coventry. Is this play important? I’d say on one hand it is. This is the fourth time it has been seen on a Belgrade stage since 2008 and it will be highly probable that it will not be the last by a long chalk. A tidy building block this is, to educate and inform, and it will be continuously called on, as a device used at times of commemoration or for attention drawing to Coventry and what has come to define it. Thematically it will run risk of being overused. But this we habitually do when it comes to commemorating anything glorious, or shocking, and, unfortunately, the latter applies in this case. So I am finding it difficult, for once, to communicate reasons why you should, or should not go and see it. It is upsetting. Of course it is. Go forth with that knowledge.

This production manages to seriously frighten, and makes the unimaginable horror, almost imaginable. The dialogue is somewhat secondary in the achieving of this, because it is largely down to the superb work of the sight and sound designers’ Arnim Friess, John Scott, and Martyn Davies, of theatre designer, Partick Connellan, and also of video consultant, Will Duke and video programmer Sam Hunt.

Despite the high drama, the three stars rating awarded, is, as it should be, a quality indicator.

Cast: Charlotte Ritchie, James Hornsby, Barry Aird, Jason Langley, Verity Kirk, Ian Barritt, Sanchia McCormack, Charlie Roe, Helen Coles.

One Night in November has a three week run at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry (until Saturday 19 October).

***3 STARS

Note: Reviewer, Debra Hall, attended the press night showing of One Night in November on Tuesday October 1st in an official capacity on behalf of Remotegoat Stage. This review also published here

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