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Think of England review at Vaults, London – ‘gently immersive wartime drama’

Leila Sykes and Matthew Biddulph in Think of England at Vaults, London. Photo: Ali Wright Leila Sykes and Matthew Biddulph in Think of England at Vaults, London. Photo: Ali Wright

There can be few shows at this year’s festival better suited to their underground environs than Anonymous is a Woman’s Think of England.

The Worcestershire-based company took its gently immersive Second World War drama on a rural tour in 2016, squeezing it into village halls across the country. Here, with the rumble of Waterloo trains above providing a convincing simulacrum of falling German bombs, its story of love and lies during a 1942 air raid feels right at home.

Madeline Gould’s play follows Bette and Vera, two Northern lasses who travel around the country entertaining the troops with tea parties, slow dances, and more. Together with three Canadian RAF officers, the audience are invited to an impromptu shindig until the all clear siren sounds. Bunting is strung up, dance steps are (awkwardly) taught, and songs – There’ll Always Be an England, We’ll Meet Again – are tentatively sung.

Director Tilly Branson works up a warm, welcoming atmosphere, but alongside the fun and frolics, she also tells a heady, occasionally hard-hitting tale of romance and wrong-doing, circling around a compelling conflict between green idealism and wartime realism. Just what services are Bette and Vera providing? And at what cost?

At nearly two hours long, Think of England is saggy and short on momentum, but it makes up for it with a heart-felt, hard-working cast – Pip Brignall is particularly good as a flashy shitheel Lieutenant – and it emerges both a sweet, nostalgia-tinged throwback, and an unexpectedly frank glimpse of the grubby realities of women’s work in wartime.

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Anonymous is a Woman's gently immersive Second World War drama feels right at home in the Vaults