We'll Keep A Welcome

Age Concern and Suitcase Theatre
Unity Theatre (24th - 25th June 2008)

Reviewed by Ruth Dillon

In 2007, Age Concern North East Wales started a reminiscence project around the memories and experiences of forty evacuees.

It was their aim to find new and responsive way to address the needs of the older people in our communities, whilst drawing on their rich and diverse cultural histories. And it seems to me they have definitely succeeded.

With the aid of writer Michael Stevens this project was transformed into the bi-lingual production of We’ll Keep A Welcome. Both Michael Stevens and director Robert Fox have long and illustrious careers in both theatre and education, and while many people set the task of translating factual memories into a stage play might fail miserably, and come across as preachy, the writer, director, set designer and actors brought the fantastic script to life with humour and excellent performances.

A simple timeline between 1939 and 1945 connects the lives of the Wrights - a Liverpool family - with the Jones and Hughes families in Wales. The story starts at the Wright home, and follows the journey of their three children, Jim, Jean and Jack as they are relocated to rural Wales. Tragedy, love, growing pains and loss thrust the two communities together with beautiful and painful results.

Many of the Welsh myths are dispelled in this fantastic production, and the lyrical quality of both Scouse and Welsh is punctuated by humour, which illuminates the commonalities of both peoples. The timeline keeps us transfixed and transports us effortlessly between Liverpool, Wales, London and Berlin.

London introduces us to the notorious William Joyce - better known as Lord Haw Haw - who fled London for Berlin to follow his fascist sympathies and his deeply unachievable beliefs. The play throws up numerous questions that are still as pertinent today. Questions of belonging and belief, and whether certain attitudes, however ridiculous, should be acceptable in any ‘civilised society’. The focus of the children's journeys keeps us riveted to the human story and allows the audience the ability to experience some of the problems children all over the world still face.

This play is a living history that shines a light on the past and on modern day society. It is also a must for all ages and all people with a genuine interest in history, and I hope we see a lot more of Suitcase Theatre's brilliant production.

And as a final footnote with the BNP on the streets of Liverpool as recently as last week I can only say plays such as this show the true futility of ignorance and division and should be welcomed in schools across the U.K.

Director Robert Fox is currently head of Drama and Theatre Studies at St Richard Gwynn RC High School, Flint and anyone wishing to gain further information on future projects may contact him there.

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