September 13, 2013
1899, and on the outbreak of the second Boer War, 24-year-old Winston Churchill – ex-soldier, failed politician, and disappointment to an illustrious father – is sent to South Africa as war correspondent for the ‘Morning Post’. Captured as a prisoner of war, the young Churchill escapes, eventually finding himself hiding in a rat-infested coal mine. The play opens in that coal mine, where, to pass the time while waiting for the train that is his only hope of escape, Churchill decides to regale the rats with the tale of his adventures.
‘Winston on the Run’ is a one-man show created by actor Freddie Machin and director/producer John Walton. With little set and a bare minimum of props, Machin gives a charismatic and high-energy performance as the young Churchill. From the lonely despair of a coal mine that may be his tomb, through a stumbling hustings speech, a train wreck under enemy fire, and a daring night-time escape, Machin carries the audience breathlessly along. While there are hints of Churchill’s more famous future, this is no ‘fight them on the beaches’ caricature of the man. Instead, Machin and Walton have created a plausible glimpse of the events that started the transformation from callow – and even a little spoiled – youth into the belligerent old statesman he eventually became. Lighting and sound are also used to good effect, transforming the stage from the oppressive atmosphere of the mine to the locations of Churchill’s story and back again.
Chipping Norton was the first step on a tour that will take ‘Winston on the Run’ on a 2-month journey around England. Unfortunately there appears to be no plan to return to Oxfordshire, but should you get the chance to see it on its travels, I highly recommend you take the opportunity.