Kev Lea reviews the play set in 1943 occupied Guernsey.
The Playhouse, the venue for tonight’s play, is beautifully preserved in my view. Whilst outside and in the foyer has been modernised, the actual theatre and decor, remain in the past. I absorbed the ambience by sitting on my own for a while before the play started, trying to encapsulate the atmosphere of this historic building. The lights dimmed and went bright briefly, indicating to the punters, tonight’s play was about to begin.
Gabriel was based on the German invasion of Guernsey in 1943, where houses waved their white flags of surrender. The cast were excellent. 2.4 Children’s Belinda Lang, playing the mother, ‘Jeannie becquet’, playing to type, but ultimately with confidence and conviction. The talented ‘Venice Van Someren’, playing the impressionable and immature schoolgirl, ‘Estelle Becquet’ and the highly rated, ‘Paul Mcgann’, playing a German officer, ‘Von Pfunz’. I thought Mcgann’s character was similar to ‘Christoph Waltz’ Hans Lada portrayal of a Nazi officer in Quentin Tarantinos ‘Inglorious Basterds’, playing the role of an amiable charmer with a sinister underbelly. But with Gabriel debuting 1997 and ‘Inglorious Basterds’ not released until 2009, maybe ‘Waltz’ character was based on ‘Von Pfunz’. The three other cast members included ‘Jules Melvin’ as the housekeeper ‘Lake’, ‘Robin Morrissey’ as ‘Gabriel’, and ‘Sarah Schoenbeck’ as ‘Lily’, Jeanne Becquet’s Jewish daughter in law.
The emotional dynamics between mother and daughter were well observed and Jeannie’s battle between self-interest, bordering on a ‘poor me’ attitude, and genuine concern for immature but good intentional daughter, were very naturally acted. Mcgann’s character, described himself as a poet and the poetry that described the torture camps was chilling, one particular prose describing a mountain of hair. The ease between comedy and serious observations of the conflict was smooth due to the skill of the acting and writing and the subject matter of island invasion, just one of many forgotten stories of war. A brief reminder of ‘Von Pfunz’ sinister character was when he described ‘Lily’, as the cancer in the room, referring to her Jewish faith.
What I found stimulating was the visual images, director ‘Kate McGregor’ gave the audience and the feel of the play. Robin Morrissey, who played ‘Gabriel’, was an injured lifeless mute at the start of his role and so was christened ‘Gabriel’ by Lily. When he recovered, he had amnesia and kept repeating the word’ Falling’. The strong women cared for Gabriel and when Lily, mourning her missing in action husband, dressed Gabriel in her husband’s cricketing whites, there was a sense of loss and loneliness that was genuinely touching. The visual image on Gabriel wearing all white, resembled what the women desired, a Angel, coming to rescue them from the plight of war, but alas, Gabriel was simply a local islander, who worked at a bank. The women still saw Gabriel as a Angel, a savour to protect them from the Germans and the increasingly sinister, Von Pfunz.
But, Gabriel suffered from brain tumour, which explained his falling, suffering from blackouts. Gabriel was a shooting star, designed to crash and burn and although his story was fictional, I wonder if the true stories of the German invasion of Guernsey will ever see the light of day. Just like the visual image of the light shining on Gabriel’s face and the hope of millions suffering at the plight of war today.