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Blonde Bombshells of 1943

Alan Plater

Octagon Theatre Bolton, with Stephen Joseph Theatre and Theatre by the Lake

Octagon Theatre, Bolton

June 9-July 1, 2023; 2hr 30 mins

(also Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, July 5-29; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, August 2-26).

Cast of Blonde Bombshells of 1943, Octagon Theatre, Bolton. All pics Pamela Raith Photography.
Swingin! Cast of Blonde Bombshells of 1943, Octagon Theatre, Bolton. All pics: Pamela Raith Photography.
Banner showing  a four-star rating

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, goes the corny old joke; but it is certainly thriving in Bolton.

Blonde Bombshells of 1943 was inspired by a real all-women wartime band, run by Ivy Benson, and as with Ivy's band, the Bombshells keep losing members to romance – especially when playing concerts for GIs. So when the opportunity arises to broadcast live on the BBC, band leader Betty (Georgina Field) must find more recruits, and quickly.

Her newly-assembled Valentino Sisters bizarrely include a naive schoolgirl (Liz, played by Lauren Chinery), a swinging nun (Lily, Gleanne Purcell-Brown) and a promiscuous Army driver who is both over the top posh and very dense (Miranda, Stacey Ghent). Even more bizarrely the new drummer isn't even female but a young man trying to avoid being called up (Patrick, Rory Gradon).

The writing is not Alan Plater at his best. The characters aren't well rounded and the humour is patchy. But the production has enough redeeming features, especially after the first act, to earn it an extra star. For while it's not fully-developed, the camaraderie, nascent feminism and sense of fun are undercut with highly relevant, bittersweet reminders that the action is taking place against a background of bombings, fear and bereavement.

The cast – all singers as well as actors – are also competent musicians, several of them playing various instruments with the brass players excelling. Georgina Field as Betty leads her band with authority, and a special mention for Gleanne Purcell-Brown who, as Lily, is surprisingly in her first actor-musician production and demonstrates a joyous stage presence.

As with so many productions of this type, it's the music that wins over the audience. Glorious tunes are laced through the show, with wonderful renditions of classics from the likes of Glenn Miller, Gracie Fields, the Andrews Sisters and even George Formby.

Not many in the theatre will have been of an age to truly remember the events, the characters and the music of this era, but that doesn't matter. We may recall the films, the recordings and the family memories. Perhaps that is why the audience responds so well. Nostalgia still has its place.

More info and tickets here


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