Review of ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’: “The escape is useless”

This summer, the true story about a group of caged pilots struggling to break free from the grips of Nazism comes to life in one of London’s most captivating venues. Upon his attendance to its opening week, Guillermo Názara reviews this semi-musical interactive show about one of the greatest escape missions in recent history.

It’s a strange afternoon in North London. An eerie calmness, the kind that usually precedes the violentest of storms, reigns over the bumpy lands of Muswell Hill. On its top, the imposing architecture of Alexandra Palace, with its solid brick walls showing the unavoidable merciless toll of time, looks down on the rest of the city – silently watching it, as if holding some sort of unspoken dominion over it. There’s a instictive vibe of bewitchment surrounding the place, in some way serving as a spontaneous preshow for what’s awaiting inside.

I make my way into the theatre. Pass behind the curtains, there lies a huge imperial hall from the turn of the century – its dilapitated walls, seconded by a lateral balcony resembling a rampart, set the tone into the bellicose moor that’s about to unfold. In the centre, a small stage, circled by seats on almost every side, quietly hoping for the arrival of the troupe. Square marks unravel on its tiny surface – a smooth stroke still capable of raising an entire atmosphere: the infamously called art of war. The alledged simplicity, however, is only at first sight.

Utter darkness seizes the place – its only companion, the fading mumbles of an anxious crowd echoing around. Two seconds pass and the reverie is broken, replaced by the nail-biting excitement of the play’s opening. Tom, Dick and Harry has entered the building, and despite its main plotline, it’s far from leaving for a long, long time. Comedy and drama merge (sometimes in harmony, sometimes in confrontation) to display this impactful eye-catching story about chivalry and resiliance. Set in the nerve-racking bleakness of Stalag Luft III, a war camp hostaging air force prisoners, the piece narrates the true tale of a group of pilots plotting their escape from Nazi oppression.

Written by Michael Hugo, Andrew Pollard and Theresa Heskins (the latter also credited as the director), Tom, Dick and Harry is an outstanding and accomplished effort at employing already used material and still coming up with a fresh original and, above all, appealing result. Despite its beginning being not too convincing (the first musical number looking a bit camp), the play strongly takes off (no pun intended) from the second scene – remaining steadily on air until its very conclusion. In spite of the woe and suffering besieging the plot’s frame, the text brilliantly brightens up the mood through cleverly written and hilariously acted humour – poking fun at both the characters and situations while surprisingly keeping the vibe of its historical gravity and never falling for a spoofy approach; unquestionably, a triumph on its own.

Relying on choral protagonism, a trait shared not only by the heroes, the cast’s infectious stamina and commitment to the work is no doubt one of the finest gems contributing to the show’s glimmer. Among them, Dominic Thorburn, in the role of Ballard, manages to lead the performance (and in some way, steal it) thanks to his stirring charisma and stage presence. This however does not cast a shadow on his battle peers, as both their characters and portrayals exhibit sufficient independence and resourcefulness not only to direct the spotlight onto them over the course of the evening, but also to be recorded quite as powerfully in the viewer’s memories. Nonetheless, it’s darkness that gleams the strongest this time, as David Fairs, in his interpretation of the obsessive and shrewd Nazi official Giesler, is a fair deserver of the audience’s ovation – perfectly balancing out the ingrained dislike arisen by his ideals with some strange empathy towards the guy, in part due to his clumsiness but also the outcast aura hovering above him.

Intriguing and both emotion and attention-absorbing, Tom, Dick and Harry succeeds at many levels, presenting us with a compelling and inspiring tale capable of accurately depicting History while also moving and entertaining. There are some technichal flaws, though – as the venue’s acoustics, combined with the absence of microphones during almost the entire performance, make it sometimes difficult to understand if the actors aren’t speaking in your direction. A similar problem happens during some of the transitions, as stagehands can be too visible when the props are removed or placed onstage. Easy (and necessary) ammendments whose absence does not diminish however the overall charm and seductiveness of the production, which I firmly encourage you to see. I won’t reveal if the escape from the camp ended up victoriously or not, but what I can give away is that as for the play, it will prove challenging, even troublesome, for your minds to flee.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Tom, Dick and Harry plays at the Alexandra Palace Theatre until August 28th. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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