Review: Three Days in May

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Three Days in May (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday October 1st)

A fly on the wall look behind the doors of Number 10 during the early days of World War Two brings actor Warren Clarke back to the stage after too long away - and he is in splendid form as newly-elected and uncertain Prime Minister Winston Churchill forced to make the toughest of decisions.

Ben Brown’s new political drama, *Three Days in May*, explores three crucial and potentially world-changing days in May 1940, when the War Cabinet was faced with a dilemma - fight the enemy alone, or attempt to negotiate peace terms.

It is a fascinating topic - but an uneven play, which the fine cast of actors and director Alan Strachan struggle to breathe life into. Jaw jaw may be better than war war, but as a leaden first half - which looks for all the world as though it should really be a radio play - you long for dramatic action and tension.

Happily that comes in the second half, with popular former PM Neville Chamberlain (a classy performance from Robert Demeger, bringing out the haunted, disappointment of the broken politician) and Lord Halifax (a beautifully intense and eloquent Jeremy Clyde), driven by the desire to appease a leader he in many ways had admired and prevent further war.

Clarke inhabits the role of Churchill with an accurate impersonation of the voice, the bluster, the demeanour, and erudition, though the writer never allows him to step away from the familiar portrayal of the statesman from the history books and give us a peep at the man behind the legend.

Nonetheless it is an impressive performance that makes one wonder how he could have been allowed to steer clear of the theatre for over a decade.

The play’s opening hints frustratingly at what might have been: Churchill’s Assistant Private Secretary Jock Colville (a pleasing James Alper, giving colour and interest to a poorly developed character) sets the scene and introduces the characters with wit and insight. Given that Colville famously wrote a diary covering the years 1939-57, it would have been far more dramatically intriguing to see these pivotal days from his viewpoint and this would assuredly have given the play a greater richness and sense of purpose.

David Guest