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A CurtainUp London London Review
Three Days in May


History will be kind to me because I shall write it. — Winston Churchill
Three Days in May
Robert Demeger as Neville Chamberlain, Jeremy Clyde as Lord Halifax and Warren Clarke as Winston Churchill (Photo: Keith Pattison)
I was quite impressed by Ben Brownís play about the British Cabinet in 1940 which examines Churchillís decision to go to war rather than attempting to bargain for peace with Hitler along the lines of the French and Italian proposals. Many of the events of the Second World War we are familiar with, like the bombing of Coventry, the evacuation of British troops from Dunkerque and the Battle of Britain are put into a strategic context as we hear the political debate which anticipated and predicated them.

Winston Churchill became Prime Minister on 10th May 1940, just sixteen days before the start of this play. Neville Chamberlain had to resign as Prime Minister because the Labour Group wouldnít work with him after the humiliation of Munich. The preferred choice as Prime Minister was the aristocrat Lord Halifax (Jeremy Clyde) rather than the idiosyncratic Churchill whose mother was American and who was seen as "a rogue elephant". Much of Three Days in May centres on the debate between Halifax and Churchill about how to proceed.

Warren Clarke reprises his role as Churchill. He has played him so often that he has perfected the Churchillian voice and mannerisms and looks enough like him for the suspension of disbelief. Also at the service at Westminster Abbey, with which the play opens, are Churchillís fellow Conservatives: Neville Chamberlain (Robert Demeger) and Lord Halifax (Jeremy Clyde), the appeasers of Hitler at Munich in 1938. Clement Atlee (Michael Sheldon) and Arthur Greenwood (Dicken Ashworth) represent the Labour Party in this wartime coalition war cabinet. Chamberlain was described as a man broken by the failure of the Munich agreement and here Robert Demeger has the air of depression that came from what he describes as "Hitler making a fool of him." Three Days in May is a heavily wordy play rather than a dramatised one but there are plenty of good visuals from the map on the walls and floor of the cabinet room, to the shadows of the leaves of the trees in the Downing Street garden. Interestingly, it isnít Chamberlain but Lord Halifax who presents the most resistance to Churchillís willingness to go to war rather than settling for Mussoliniís terms for peace, the proposed loss of both Gibraltar and the Suez Canal at either end of the Mediterranean and the surrender of some colonies in Africa. In the play, we see a meeting between Churchill and the French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud (Timothy Kightley) where the Frenchman wants England to agree to the Italian plans.

The play is framed by an introduction and conclusion from the Prime Ministerís Private Secretary Jock Colville (James Alper) whose autobiography has proved a valuable source for Ben Brown. I liked the personal aspect of the play. We are used to seeing archive footage of Churchill making those famously inspiring speeches but here we also see Churchill, the man, making this momentous and world changing personal decision. This is a perfect political play for those interested in history and the twentieth century. Iíll close on a Churchill quote from his account in his book, The Gathering Storm. ". It is where the balance quivers and the proportions are veiled in mist, that the opportunity for world-saving decisions presents itself. ". The stuff of great drama!

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Three Days in May
Written by Ben Brown
Directed by Alan Strachan

Starring: Warren Clarke, Jeremy Clyde, Robert Demeger
With: James Alper, Michael Sheldon, Dicken Ashworth, Timothy Kightley, Paul Ridley
Designed by Gary McCann
Lighting/Video Design: Mark Howett
Sound: Martin Hodgson
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7627
Booking to 3rd March 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th November 2011 performance at Trafalgar Studios One, Whitehall, London SW1A 2D (Tube: Charing Cross)

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