Nottingham writer, Nottingham director and a Nottingham cast – what a hat trick for the Playhouse stage!
30 years after its debut, Stephen Lowe’s Touched returns to entertain and educate its audiences about Nottingham’s war years, and more specifically, the lives of a group of women – sisters and close friends – on a single road in Sneinton.
Directed by Matt Aston and set in the 100 days between the VE and VJ days in 1945, Touched travels all over Nottingham, from a test tube factory to the top of Colwick Hill, and through just about every emotion imaginable.
In their fantastic reviews, our critics have picked up on the immense skill of Nottinghamshire actors Aisling Loftus and Vicky McClure who excel in strong and entertaining female roles, and how their performances could well be informed by the experiences of their families in Nottingham during the war.
Praise is also given to the narrative provided by way of the stage design and the educational aspect of the performance. Read on to find out why you shouldn’t miss out on this one!
Engaging, Watchable and Entertaining
‘Touched’, by Stephen Lowe, has returned to the Nottingham Playhouse stage after 30 years of absence, this time directed by Matt Aston, and tells the story of a group of women living in Sneinton in 1945 during the 100 days between VE and VJ day. It’s a play of words and mood, not action, which usually finds me wriggling in my seat, drifting in and out of attention, but I found the themes of hope and fear as a new world dawned fascinating. Furthermore, it was deeply interesting to be given an insight into the lives of Nottingham’s women on the Home Front going on elsewhere. Their lives hadn’t been action-packed, but they had been in total control for the past 6 years and been allowed to work and thrive in roles unimaginable before the war as they prepared for the men’s return and a return to their passive role when the men regained control.
By the end of the second act I was perhaps getting restless with the lack of drama but overall I really enjoyed the production and found it very engaging, watchable and entertaining. It was the actors’ (all originally from Nottingham) talent and faults performances that carried the show for me, especially Aisling Loftus as Joan who brought tremendous energy and a believable entertaining character truly alive and Vicky McClure as Sandra who was totally immersed in the role. I empathised with her the most.
Also the sliding intricate set and period costumes were beautifully designed by Jamie Vartan and really enhanced the performance. I was impressed and rather baffled at the total set change at the end of the piece to a stunning blossom tree surrounded by blue sky; the whole production was a treat for your eyes. Overall I would recommend ‘Touched’ to most and it was really good to see a play with so many female roles characterised so strongly.
Home ‘Front’ Truths
Gripping, insightful and close to home, Nottingham Playhouse’s Touched is truly a blast from the past.
On 21st February I saw Stephen Lowe’s Touched, directed by Matt Aston. Written in the void between VE day and VJ day, it tells the story of Nottingham women as they celebrate, and then discover exactly how life will completely change and go back to ‘normal’. The play touches on issues relevant to the time along with details of Nottingham during the war which many may not know.
The set was very interesting. First greeting us with a row of houses and a washing-line, it later opens up and reveals inside one of the houses, and also a tree which is from the focus of the story on Colwick Park. The play is littered with nods to Japan and how the play references it; this is visually shown through the changing of set, being like that of sliding Japanese doors. Other Japanese features include neutral characters bowing to each other as they ‘pull’ the sliding doors of the set shut. And the tree in the final scene is a cherry blossom, another reference to Japan. The set also moulds together the modern day and the war through projections onto the set. These projections are of old Nottingham maps, which then have days projected onto them in a typewriter style.
The characterisation from the actors was also of an exquisite level, with Aisling Loftus, playing Joan, particularly standing out for me, giving an outstanding performance throughout of the feisty, loud character. Many of the actors are also from Nottingham, such as Aisling who went to the Becket School, and Vicky McClure, giving a sentimental edge to the performance and allowing the actors to use knowledge from their own families and how they experienced the story first-hand.
Touched is certainly relevant to a Nottingham audience, of all ages, those who may have been there, or grew up shortly after, as well as the young generation who can discover things about their families past and what is happening here in our own city.
The sound effects used also greatly helped the piece, gradually changing in the background, unnoticeable, but reflecting the mood on stage. Sound effects from the war also added a very realistic effect, having speeches from people such as Winston Churchill, these alone gave the piece a lot of power.
Overall I found the production very insightful and found out things I never knew. The amazing quality of acting also engaged and captivated me throughout and the cast really gelled together as one to lift the piece to a great level. I would recommend as many people in Nottingham as possible go to see this, to learn about how things were in a bygone age and how our own families’ lives may have been. I would also go and see more plays directed by Matt Aston and his creative use of moulding time zones together to engage a modern audience, as well as seeing plays with Vicky and Aisling and their high-quality acting styles.
Director Matt Aston brings Stephen Lowe’s classic Touched to the stage in such a way that you can’t help but feel that they worked very closely indeed. The all-Nottingham cast brings an authenticity to the play that is not lost to us. The dialect is true to the era and area and delivered brilliantly by the entire cast.
The set gives us a feel of what conditions would have been like back then and seems to take inspiration from the real streets of Nottingham. It also helps in our insight into what life was like for the men who were left behind, and primarily women who had to become stronger for their country and their families.
The story follows the lives of a close-knit community who struggle with their responsibilities and the stigmas of the time. Vicky McClure’s character, Sandra, finds herself in a situation where she must make an incredibly difficult decision but gets through it with the help of her friends and family. Meanwhile, they must deal with the consequences of the Second World War being announced as won in Europe but Japanese aggression continues and results in the first atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.
There is imagery throughout that subtly adds to the play and has a slow-burn effect that has you exclaiming in surprise as you realise the significance of the symbolism long after the play is over. I had an epiphany in the car on the way home!
The performances draw you in and you find yourself unable to pick any stand-alone characters as everyone worked together and supported one another just as they would have in the community they are representing.
I only wish I had the writing skills of the playwright Stephen Lowe, however! Please trust me when I say, “You should see this show”.
Touched- them perhaps, me not so
Comedy is never easy to get right and neither is drama. They are both very intricate and delicate genres to master, and we have seen great examples of both, from the Playhouse and other venues. But this… isn’t one of those.
To be honest, it took me a while to figure out what I didn’t like about this play. Was it the set? Definitely not. The set is simplistic, but they use that simplicity to give the play a great layer of depth, by projecting a map of Nottingham (the setting for the play) onto the background at key moments, as well as using it to show time transitions.
Was it the acting? No. The acting was very good and showed a wide range of emotions from the characters, which allowed the tone of the play to change very quickly on numerous occasions.
Was it the story? Well… it wasn’t anything special. It had some original (and, at the time it was written, likely controversial) ideas to it, but it wasn’t really exceptional. The characters, while they were taken full advantage of by the actors, in many respects felt either very “samey” or fairly bland.
No, my biggest problem was the presentation. There is something about the whole thing that, to me, seems… incorrect. It tries to do a lot, from self-contained humour to much darker and depressive themes, but it all feels so forced. At one point, about halfway through Act 2, there is a pretty important plot twist, and to its credit, it’s both original and well executed. But then, during the final scene, they try to refer to the twist for, what I assume to be, either a piece of meta-narrative, or evidence to suggest that one of the characters is insane. These unconventional ideas appeared detached to everything else in the story.
In fact, the tone of the whole play just seemed confused. However, it does capture the period and uncertainty very well. It is set in 1945 during the 100 days between VE day and VJ day and shows how the lives of these sisters has been “Touched” by war. But sometimes, especially towards the end, they try to evoke some form of hopeless dread, a time of neither war nor peace that leaves the audience uncertain as to how it will all end.
The play achieves several positive aspects: solid acting, original story, great set. But it tries far too hard to be different. But hey, my opinion has a long running streak of being wrong, so what can I say? Personally, I’d wait till the “Grapes of Wrath” comes to the Playhouse, instead of seeing this. But that’s just my personal opinion. As with most art forms, we all bring our different perspectives into the theatre.
Touched – a poem.
Alone at home
Children running round their feet
Pots to wash
Boots to clean
Dusting to be done in every room.
No one is there to provide them with cash
So out to work they trek.
Slaving in the kitchens
Sewing in the factories
Surviving on rations alone.
Letters from husbands everyone once in a while
The longing for them to come home.
A feeling of sadness
Like the end just won’t come
Despair and desperation in all they do.
But then comes the hope
The pride and the joy
As they look back at all that is done.
A Touching Play
The story of the women from the second world war. Times sure have changed since then, and this play shows that perfectly. The heartwarming story tells us of the women of Sneinton, Nottingham. A local community, bought together by the war, but pulled apart as soon as it ended. A tale of hope for change in this new world, and fear of what may become of it.
Step into a world where family memories are relived, and working women’s lives are turned around by unforeseen events that could change their ways forever.
Starting at VE day, the play takes us through 100 days of hard life on the home front, until VJ day, the end of all problems presented in the play when in the final scene, where they all seem happy, until shocking truths are revealed, all in a beautiful setting, inspired by a family story.
With a wonderful cast, performed excellently and with no flaws, this well directed masterpiece deserves the applause.