Cockpit by Irish-British writer Bridget Boland (1913 – 1988) and directed by Wils Wilson sees The Lyceum Theatre turned into a German provincial theatre in 1945 as it is used as a makeshift transit camp for displaced persons from across the continent. Using all available levels in the main theatre as part of the performance space completely breaks down the barriers between audience and performers (some seats are also available on stage for audience and cast members), and a big part of the success of this immersive performance must go to designer Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, Lighting Designer Kai Fischer and Sound Designer Matt Padden.
Cockpit is disturbing at times to watch as it was written in 1947, just a few years after the war in Europe ended, so it is a contemporary witness account rather than an imagined period piece. Bridget Boland also served during the war years in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, producing plays for the troops to boost morale from 1943 to 1946 (thanks for that info Wikipedia), so the wider realities and limitations of life in the forces would not have eluded her, or taken on any starry eyed romanticism.
The logistics behind our makeshift camp of Displaced Persons (DP’s) is a simple one for the British Army…process them as quickly as possible and move them on to the next stage of the process where they are someone else’s problem. That process pretty much revolves around transporting our DPs in trucks East or West depending upon their place of origin. What do you do though when Polish DP’s are so terrified of Russian retribution that they refuse to go East, when unsettled scores come to a head, or potential collaborators with the enemy are held to account for their actions? What do you do when every resource that should be available to you to at least manage the problem is either at best totally inadequate or at worst simply not available…this is the situation that both the British military and the multi-national gathering of DPs find themselves in.
“Cockpit” is an ensemble performance piece and all of our cast here are impressive and everyone is written so well as characters that you not only start to care about them, but also want to know more of their own personal stories that are only hinted at here. As always though a few people do seem to have roles that allow them to stand out a little more than others, and Deka Walmsley (Sergeant Barnes), Peter Hannah (Captain Ridley), Kaisa Hammarlund (Marie) and Alexandra Mathie (The Professor) fall into this category for me tonight with Dylan Reid as our very protective German theatre staff member Bauer obviously having fun with so many over the top scenes to steal in between also playing Duval.
Cockpit is theatre at its best with a story than you want to hear being told, and only live theatre can pull an audience into its created reality space like this. Cockpit however also shines a spotlight on the every day casualties of war and displacement who have no choice in how the actions of others change their lives forever…with war always come her sisters, death, famine and disease, and our DPs have little choice in avoiding meeting at least one of these horrors as they try to rebuild their lost lives.
History is never as they try to teach us in school as straight line of dates and events, it is instead an ever twisting river of causes and effects, and this work looks at some of these elements as they converge to the hell that is a displaced persons’ transit camp in Germany in the immediate post war aftermath. The script of Cockpit is both a contemporary observation of this horror and with hindsight an unheeded warning of the consequences of not dealing with any of these issues properly. If we have learned one thing from the events of WWII it is that we have learned nothing at all from our mistakes and we seem to be locked into an never ending cycle of repeating those mistakes endlessly for future generations to once again have to deal with.
Review by Tom King