Blitz! Union Theatre

Oompah, Oompah

If you wonder why Blitz feels very familiar, that is because Lionel Bart’s Blitz leans very heavily on his hit musical Oliver, from the cockney accents and rhyming slang, down to the knees –up style of music and dancing.  Blitz does what it says on the tin; it is a musical about EastEnders living through the Blitz during World War II. It is centred around two families, the Blitzsteins, headed by Jewish matriarch Mrs Blitzstein, and The Lockes, headed by anti-Semitic air raid warden Mr Locke. We witness them manage the tragedies and comedy that local people experienced in London’s east end during the Blitz.  “Our Hotel” sets the scene, introducing us to the locals and the two families, who live on the same street, when they seek the protection of the London underground station during an air bombing raid. The EastEnders are led by Jessica Martin as Mrs Blitzstein, singing “Our Hotel” with the whole company singing and dancing about bedding down on the tube platform, which they mockingly refer to as a 4 star hotel. It is a fun number and the first of several Oompah numbers. The talented cast put everything into their performances, with rallying song and dance routines, it is a right old knees up.

Mrs Blitzstein is a widow who has scrimped and saved to raise her children alone, she is a community leader who sorts everything and makes sure everyone on the street is fed and sheltered. She has to face a daily barrage of abuse from her anti-Semitic neighbour Mr Locke, played by Michael Martin, who is also a single parent. This is depicted in “Tell Him- Tell Her” during which they trade insults as a result of their long standing feud. Mrs Blitzstein’s daughter Carol, played by Caitlin Anderson, and Mr Locke’s son George, played by Connor Carson, are the girl and boy next door who are in love, which is opposed, mostly by the bigoted Mr Locke.

Blitz, like its subject matter, is a bit hit and miss, unfortunately with more misses than hits.  There are some stand out performances including the entertaining tap routine between Robbie MCartney as Harry, Mrs Blitzstein’s son and George which is reminiscent of a variety or music hall style act. I also enjoyed the amusing song and dance of “Another Morning.”  Lionel Bart’s spin on female empowerment is showcased in “Leave it To the Ladies,” it is fun but somewhat dated, with the women performing a parody of a cabaret. “So Tell Me,” brilliantly sung by Martin as Mrs Blitzstein, is reminiscent of “Fiddler on the Roof” and was rather moving. Overall, Martin excels as the strong widow Mrs Blitzstein, shepherding her family through tough times. Other moments of fun include “ Down the Lane,” involving the whole company Although Anderson beautifully sings the unashamedly sentimental “Far Away,” it feels manipulative and I did not feel very moved.  Perhaps this is because the plot is clichéd, contrived and unconvincing. I do not believe in the story, particularly when Mrs Blitzstein ends up getting married to her anti-Semitic neighbour Mr Locke.

It does seem that having landed on the hit formula of Oliver, Lionel Bart tried to repeat it with Blitz, setting it in the twentieth century during World War II.

Photo by Mark Senior

Blitz is at Union Theatre from 5 February to 7 March 2020

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