Get our free email newsletter with just one click

The Fifth Column review at Southwark Playhouse – ‘smartly designed’

Simon Darwen and Michael Edwards in The Fifth Column at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Philip Gammon Simon Darwen and Michael Edwards in The Fifth Column at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Philip Gammon
by -

Notable for rediscovering contemporary First World War plays, Two’s Company switches conflicts for Ernest Hemingway’s only theatrical work, completed in a matter of days while he was a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.

During a fascist bombardment of Madrid, American Philip Rawlings poses as a war correspondent while orchestrating espionage for the loyalists and trying to take down fascist sympathisers operating within the city. The play slips between shadowy military intrigue and a doomed romance between Rawlings and journalist Dorothy Bridges, as Rawlings realises he is in too deep fighting for his cause to hope for a happy ever after.

Following her engrossing Southwark Playhouse production with Two’s Company, The Cutting of the Cloth, director Tricia Thorns makes the most of a text that desperately lacks the gruff erudition of Hemingway’s prose. She finds the most purchase in the satirical distinction between the Americans and the Spanish – exhausted and hungry hotel staff, played by the very funny Stephen Ventura and Catherine Cusack, are forced to wait hand and foot on the bed-hopping journalists.

The Hotel Florida is a detached, privileged space in Alex Marker’s stand-out design, with perfectly detailed hotel rooms seeming to float above a stylised bombed-out city, cold, blue and smoking at the edges.

Alix Dunmore plays the love-struck, oblivious Dorothy for everything she can, but the part is too thin and simpering to support the tumultuous romance with Simon Darwen’s nervy, alcoholic Rawlings that Hemingway’s play relies on.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Americans colonise the Spanish Civil War in a smartly designed production of Hemingway’s less than subtle play