Thursday, 6 July 2017

Review Instructions For American Servicemen in Britain

A World War II guide for newly-stationed US soldiers becomes a robust twenty first century parody diverting Peter Barker.

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain
Created by Dan March, Jim Millard, Matt Sheahan
and John Walton

Know Your Ally

In 1942 the US War Department distributed a 5,000 word booklet as a guide for American servicemen about to arrive in Britain.

Taking the pamphlet's observations, astutely aimed at the US soldier, sailor and airman, as inspiration, comedy trio The Real MacGuffins, director John Walton and Fol Espoir have created this delightful and very funny production.

The Atlantic divide between the US and Britain has always been fertile territory -- think of The Beatles, regulatory arbitrage, Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death through the writings of Bill Bryson to Richard Curtis's Notting Hill and even  TV hit Downtown Abbey.  

Bill Bryson's books mine a sentimental and whimsical outsider's view of Britain from the point of view of an Anglophile, marking a nation's foibles without insulting the nation or its consumers whom he hopes will buy his books.

Meanwhile Instructions For American Servicemen in Britain, written by a writer who has remained anonymous, was given away free. It was more aimed at keeping the US forces and the British population as allies on the ground, but  it also remains an educated American's snapshot of the UK.

However the show of Instructions For American Serviceman in Britain, keeping the framework of the pamphlet, tends towards the genial and agreeable path of Bryson.

It's a laugh from the beginning to the end with the pamphlet transformed into the arrival of an American airbase filled with US airmen in the village of Nether Middleton and subsequent attempts, with audience participation, to educate them in the ways and etiquette of British life.

Among other laconic observations we hear “the British can’t make decent coffee, but then you can’t make decent tea”. "The British are tough, the English language didn’t spread across the oceans and over the mountains and jungles and swamps of the world because these people were panty-waists.”

Inversion is of course a great staple of comedy. Here it is the inversion of an American guide to the British way of life played back to a London audience in, 75 years later, a self-deprecating historical take on our still special relationship.

The Real MacGuffin’s trio of players Dan March, James Millard, and Matt Sheahan, play all the characters -- from US Army Air Force officers to old English ladies and English officers.

They take the audience through set pieces including an explanation of the monetary system, afternoon tea and a hybrid baseball/cricket match. The material feels as though it has been built up through improvisation and is continually open to even more.

A highlight for me was the use of puppets at the start of Act two tackling the British class system described in the pamphlet, in a hilarious MacGufffin framework.

One warning though; if you don’t like Morris Dancing, you will really hate the show’s climax ... 😉

I found the whole experience, skilfully relayed by the MacGuffins, relaxing and very, very funny. It may not be what the well-informed anonymous writer intended when he - we presume it was a he - wrote this snapshot of 1942 Britain as a benevolent piece of propaganda.

Yet his tolerant mapping out of the British Way Of Life, in this adaptation, proves a green light tonic for this reviewer.

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