Just a few hours before Elma Hunter from Act III’s ‘Keep Calm and Tell It‘ appears on BBC1’s The One Show with her stories from WW2 in Hull I add my own thoughts on the show that played at Hull Truck Theatre.
I think people of my generation find it difficult to comprehend the blitz. The idea of ‘terror from the skies’ (Hull Daily Mail headline from the time) where things that could kill you, would hurtle out of the darkness and cause devastation on a terrifying scale. I don’t think we could comprehend going to school one day and finding out the boy you sat next to, his entire family had been wiped out in last night’s air raid.
I saw Keep Calm and Tell It at the weekend. In the main house Dancing in the Shadows is playing so this show, equally as popular, is complimentary to the one in the main theatre. I saw the matinee showing and there wasn’t a spare seat in the house.
Keep Calm is told and performed by non-professional company Act III, who stirred audiences with the moving wartime tale Echoes, earlier in the year. It is essentially a series of stories and anecdotes taken from personal accounts and real life experiences, some harrowing, some humorous, all true.
Director Rupert Creed, blends the everyday experience of wartime life and sets the familiar against a backdrop of a burning city, filled with Hull folk determined to survive. I can’ t help thinking they really were a different breed of people back then.
Parodying the austere BBC radio voice, Keep Calm re-enacts the declaration of war and other significant wartime broadcasts. The show makes good use of multimedia, projecting wartime posters and adverts to clearly show how the govt. made use of propaganda and the power of advertising, much of which was aimed at women.
The sight of the wholesome woman, hair in a scarf rolling up her sleeves to do her bit – following advice from the Wartime Ministry of Food, with recipes for thrift pies and cakes with cardboard icing; the evacuation picture telling parents that children are safer in the country a sobering reminder that lives are at stake.
There’s the make do and mend initiative, where inventive methods of making what little you had go that little bit further were swapped and shared in the community. Everything is scarce, food stocks are low because the Merchant Navy vessels – carrying much of the country’s supplies – are getting blown up in the mid Atlantic. It’s Dig for Victory the drive for self sufficiency, grow your own veg and win the war that way. It’s this kind of spirit and approach to survival that prompts the card in the shop window offering ‘Two rabbits for a wedding dress’
There was a story about a little girl visiting the cinema in East Hull on the night of one of the most devastating air raids Hull experienced. She recalled a little leather handbag with a tortoise shell mirror she’d got that day as a gift. The ‘buzzers’ had sounded to signal a raid was imminent. Her family make the decision to leave the cinema and run down the middle of Holderness road, to get home to safety. In the confusion and panic she loses her precious little handbag. It is a reminder that it is sometimes the little things that mean so much at times of great upheaval.
Using the powerful images of Hull under siege, whole streets blackened and burnt out, combined with the strains of Elgar proved too much for some sitting around me. When I saw those images of a wounded city yet with resolve fixed enough to rebuild I was filled with a sense of pride. I have no connection with Hull’s blitz my family were not here. My grandfather worked on the railway he was a GWR man during the war, that is all I ever knew. But seeing the audience immediately afterwards you can tell that each and everyone had some connection to the blitz; a relative undoubtedly; a friend, perhaps a neighbour: all had a story to tell.