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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
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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.

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Verdict
Americans colonise the Spanish Civil War in a smartly designed production of Hemingway’s less than subtle play
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