In 1942 around 50,000 US airmen were stationed in East Anglia. The so-called ‘friendly invasion’ is the subject for Polly Wiseman’s thoughtful play.
Wiseman tackles some tricky themes head on as a London land girl falls in love with a black GI and racial tensions come to the fore. The hypocrisy of justifying overt racism in peak Jim Crow era while purporting to fight fascism in Germany is brought to a head in an unflinching and discomforting way. Black soldier Joe is not allowed to fly planes or use guns; black soldiers were forced to do grunt work, while being racially abused as a reward for their efforts.
The play uses the culture clash of American GIs – Hershey bars and Lindy Hops – with rustic English folk – cow dung and ale – to highlight the ridiculousness of segregation between black and white: we’re all different, sure, but we’re also all kind of the same.
Georgia Brown stands out as Joe’s lover Viv, a cocky East London land girl whose rough and mouthy veneer hides a naivety and uncertainty that comes back to bite her.
Conjuring a rural spirit with fondness and care, the production evokes elements of The Archers and Emmerdale. But what Wiseman nails is an ambiguity in the play’s nostalgia: in many respects, life back then seemed simpler. And yet there were insidious inequalities and injustices. It wasn’t just the Nazis who were drawing arbitrary lines between pure and impure, good and evil.
For their spring tour, rural touring company Eastern Angles are taking Wiseman’s new play to over 50 towns and village halls. It’s a challenging and sensitive play, perfectly pitched for the history-steeped, community-focused halls its playing in.