Breaking The Fourth Wall

Think of England, Vault Festival – Review

L-R: Leila Sykes and Madeleine Gould / All photos © Ali Wright

Written by Madeline Gould and directed by Tilly Branson, Anonymous Is A Woman’s Think of England takes an unexplored perspective of women in wartime Britain. Using the inspired settings of the Vaults’ tunnels, the show begins with Bette (Leila Sykes) and Vera (Madeleine Gould) setting up a impromptu tea dance to raise morale. Being a piece of immersive theatre, the audience who sit either side of the tunnel interact with the cast.

As the show’s set during the Second World War, rationing is very much a part of everyday life. This being the case, the raffle that takes places features ‘luxuries’ such as butter, ginger and ladies’ tights. The arrival of three Canadian air crew who have had their first leave in weeks prompts further festivities, including dancing. However, an assumption made by one of the air crew sours the occasion, spurring accusations between the women and the Canadians…

L-R: Stefan Menaul and Leila Sykes

Over the course of the evening, details are revealed through conversation about the lives of Bette and Vera before their current vocation. Initially working in retail and later a munitions factory, ‘facilitating morale’ offers a welcome change of pace for them. However, for Bette, her reasons for holding ‘tea dances’ are much personal, influenced greatly by what happened to her brother in battle.

Matthew Biddulph with Leila Sykes

It’s well-known fact that during this period, the usual ‘etiquette’ regarding ‘proper behaviour’ was often put on hold, with many people adopting a carpe diem attitude towards ‘relations’. For those in the Armed Forces, there was an unofficial dispensation to pursue this, but for women no such double-standard existed. If they go along with the men to ‘scratch their itch’, they are ‘for hire’, but if they don’t they are just ‘teasers’ or ‘not doing their patriotic duty’. The question is what sort of women do these airmen think they are? And just as important, apart from not working in a factory, what do Vera and Bette really get out of hosting ‘tea dances’?

The last act really raises the stakes, as the ugliness of male expectation is exposed. The initial assumptions are rage-inducing, but that’s nothing compared to the sense of entitlement that’s officially condoned…

© Michael Davis 2018

Think Of England runs at the Vault Festival until 11th February.