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Spring Offensive review at Omnibus, London – ‘a brutal black comedy’

Spring Offensive at Omnibus, London. Photo: Peter Jones Victoria Willing in Spring Offensive at Omnibus, London. Photo: Peter Jones
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Plays commemorating the First World War are commonplace at the moment, so Clapham Omnibus associate writer Victoria Willing’s new piece comes as something of a surprise.

Set in a bed and breakfast in the Somme, it examines the peculiar nature of First World War tourism and the people who base their lives around mankind’s most bitter conflict.

April escaped to the Somme with her son and made a new life for herself providing board and lodging to a succession of tourists. Twenty-five years on and she has developed a distinctly passive aggressive nature fuelled by too much wine.

Despite the cloak of middle class gentility that provides much of the humour in Willing’s black comedy, the writing is brutal. Each character is dealing with loss and April is the great enabler, superficially pandering to their needs but ultimately using the lodgers to her own advantage. Just when it all becomes a little too personal, Willing delivers a sucker punch that turns April’s world upside down.

Director Marie McCarthy stages the play in the round and Linbury prize-winning designer Grace Smart dresses the stage and auditorium with the mismatched trappings of a down-at-heel B&B.

Tony Turner and Maggie Daniels as long-term lodgers Tom and Pam are beautifully observed lost souls, scratching around trying to find a meaning for their own lives among the long dead. It is Willing’s fragile performance as April however, that gives this play its momentum and perspective.

Verdict
Entertaining yet surprisingly ruthless black comedy about loss and survival  
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