Thursday 28th July 2022 at the Alexandra Palace Theatre, London
Reviewer: Issy Flower
Tom Dick and Harry at Alexandra Palace is a queer beast. Not quite farce, not quite historical drama, it often comes off as Carry On Up The POW Camp and despite strong performances, prioritises jokes to its detriment.
Anyone who’s seen the classic 1963 film The Great Escape is aware of the premise: trapped in Stalag Luft 33, a band of plucky fighter pilots dig three tunnels to ensure maximum escape and, briefly, 76 of them manage it. But unlike the film the play, co-written by Andrew Pollard, Michael Hugo and Theresa Heskins – who also directs, is shot through with multiple jokes, almost coming every other line. Whilst this keeps the show bouncing along and is frequently hilarious (including some fantastic audience interaction) it prevents us from ever connecting with our cast except as comic stooges who can’t even suffer being discovered by the Luftwaffe without making a ‘shafted’ pun.
Audience-performer connection is further impacted by the poor acoustics, meaning many lines are lost even from the front rows, and could be easily solved by micing the cast up. Almost to compensate for this, some comedic devices over-explain what we already know: as an audience we’re used to Germans speaking in English and don’t need a silly metatheatrical “translation device” to tell us otherwise; nor do we need a song about the Geneva Convention, however well it is sung.
Despite this, there are frequent moments where the production dazzles, and these come in the depiction of the planning and execution of the escape itself. Projection designs from Illuminos are used dazzlingly to quickly define characters and electrify each stage of the planning process, which is conveyed sharply tongue-in-cheek and with plenty of theatrical style. So too is the genuinely gripping escape portion, which as with the best moments in the piece dials down the comedy in favour of tension and character. Although it’s a bit hard to believe that these men would pause during escape to share recollections of racism or a jolly good luck handshake, and add pathos, the too-jolly-for-its-own-good ending fails to capture.
Although buoyed by a strong cast (with a stand-out performance from Dominic Thorburn as Big X Roger Ballard), some good jokes and thrilling physical sequences, Tom Dick and Harry has too much fun to delve deeply into the issues of class, nationality and privilege discussed within the play, and too much wit to let the murder of 50 men make any impact at all.
Tom, Dick and Harry plays the Alexandra Palace Theatre until August 28th 2022 – you can find tickets here.