Blonde Bombshells Of 1943

Musical full of swinging 40's hits.
Oxford Playhouse, Tue January 30th - Sat February 3rd and Mon August 6th - Sat August 11th 2007

August 7, 2007
In 1994 the most successful all-female pop group in history was formed: the Spice Girls. The group coined the phrase ‘Girl Power’, promoting it is a slogan representing strong, loyal friendship amongst females. The group was considered to be innovative; taking the power of female solidarity to a new level and broadcasting their manufactured opinion to female counterparts across the globe.

There never was an all-woman band called the ‘Blonde Bombshells'; however, there were women throughout Britain who during the 30s and 40s had great musical ability and due to the conditions of World War II had the opportunity to pull together and use their talent to unite, entertain and perhaps demonstrate an all together more genuine Girl Power than Posh, Ginger, the Mels and Baby.

Blonde Bombshells of 1943 by Alan Plater is a gentle fusion of comedy and music. The cast comprises seven women and one man; all of who are multitalented, often with skills stretching from being able to rattle off a melody with a trombone to delivering a quick cheesy quip in the midst of an air raid. The play endeavours to recount a day in 1943 when the ‘Blonde Bombshells’ are due to perform live on the BBC and three new band members – a school girl, a nun and an upper-class tart – are urgently recruited for the performance. The characterization is neat – nearly crass, and the play makes no attempt to hide this with one character commenting, ‘if you three went into a bar it would be like the start of a joke’.

The musical performances are varied – including pieces by George Formby, Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters – and are often touching but always strong. Around the songs the script appeared sometimes odd – drifting from somewhat corny lines to pontificating on the ethics of entertainment in wartime. There was also an uncomfortable scene where the band manager purports that a life in show business saved her from the comparatively awful life of nappy changing, cooking and cleaning – this to me tainted the otherwise positive portrayals of womanhood projected throughout the play.

The final scene of the show is dazzling, with the women – and the man – dressed in glitzy red dresses and big-hair blonde wigs, belting out energetic numbers and characters slickly swapping instruments and rotating round the vivaciously lit stage – real Girl Power.

Blonde Bombshells is good fun; there are moments where it attempts to address serious themes and possibly an important message is conveyed. Whatever the ethics, the play was a cheerful blend of sentiment, nostalgia and powerful female talent.
A loose storyline about a girl's grandmother ties together a play that deals with cowardice, courage and resilience, and is punctuated by a string of beautifully judged and wittily staged songs from the 1940s. I felt, however, that the play's real heart lay not in northern-lass, Betty's determination to put together a girl-band for a radio-show in Hull, but in the captivating performances of Georgina Field as a nun liberated by singing George Formby songs (oblivious to their innuendo), and of Rosie Jenkins, who played a rather dim oxford graduate with a taste for bedding Earls, both brought together to perform in ill-fitting blonde wigs and cheap dresses and to find solidarity in the war-effort. The epilogue relates that neither girl is really changed by the experience of singing together but in the performance they give the troops in the second part of the show, it is clear that  thoughts of convent and class are temporarily put aside. I thought this was a very interesting comment on the nature and selflessness of the performing arts as too was the naive girl (who is heartbroken to learn her first love is nothing but a gigolo) a few minutes later, without any further explanation or soul-searching, giving the performance of her life.
 
There might be room to criticise a play that relies so heavily on caricature, nostalgia and sentimentality, but it does so honestly. There are a few corny lines ( "Don't you know why we laugh? To stop ourselves from crying.") but they are forgivable. I do not think it spoils the plot to reveal that draft-dodger Patrick, Oliver Chopping, is outed, but whatever bitterness lies in that part of the storyline - and it is central to Liz's narrative of her Grandmother's discovery of love, betrayal, and momentary stardom in a single day - it is eclipsed by the sustained charm and vibrancy of the performances by all the cast, Chopping himself included. What could anyone ever really hold against a man who smiles and clucks so winningly?
 
Mark Babych has revived a play by the talented Alan Plater with an astonishingly versatile cast - the speed of the finale and the ease with which the girls each play a variety of instruments, and sing and dance - almost all at the same time is breath-taking. It is a sure-fire hit, and deserves to be sold-out not only in Oxford but throughout its tour of the South West; quite frankly, it should have a West-End run!

Saw the above at the Alhambra in Bradford, Friday 13th Feb (wrong date!). Very disapointed. Never seemed to really get going, and although the music was well played, I felt no inclination to join in the clapping, sing along, etc. The tunes advertised were not played, the theatre was less than half full (maybe the previous days left their mark?). Having seen Oliver 2 weeks previously in London, perhaps I expected too much. This era of music is my favourite but I felt most let down.

I have just come back from seeing the Blonde Bombshells of 1943 at the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole, Dorset with 19 friends. We all thoroughly enjoyed the energy and talent of the cast who each played several instruments with such panache and verve. The quick fire comedy kept us laughing as we marvelled at the ability of the cast to switch from dancing to acting to playing an instrument. This show deserves to have a nationwide tour, not just venues in the south. In fact it should end up in the West End where it would rival many of the musical shows there.
We saw the comedy / musical Blonde Bombshells of 1943, today - 14th February - at the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole, Dorset. We thought it was fantastic. My other half did not believe the girls were playing their instruments "live"; I am convinced they were. We shall certainly be seeing this play again and will be recommending it to friends and family. 100% good.
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