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Review: Happy Warriors, at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

91-year-old Islingtonian James Hugh Macdonald’s first ever play features Churchill’s son and Evelyn Waugh as two toffs ‘helping’ Tito’s Partisans fight the Nazis

12 April, 2018 — By Michael Stewart

Neil Chinneck and Simon Pontin in Happy Warriors

RANDOLPH Churchill and novelist Evelyn Waugh as an Odd Couple-like comedy duo? Surely not.

Ninety one-year-old Islingtonian James Hugh Macdonald’s first ever play Happy Warriors is set during the Second World War and centres on supposedly true events involving these unlikely lads.

The two toffs find themselves holed up in a farmhouse in Croatia, then part of Yugoslavia, “helping” Tito’s Partisans fight the Nazis.

Prime minister Winston Churchill thought it would be a grand idea to send his wayward son Randolph to supervise aid to these fierce communist guerrillas, which proves to be a bit like foreign secretary Boris Johnson sorting out the world’s woes.

Desperate for intelligent company, Randolph asks for old drinking mucker and fellow toff Waugh as his captain. But the war outside the farmhouse is soon mirrored by the war of words inside as their mutual irritation mounts.

Add to this the aptly named Zora Panic as their pretty Croatian cook. She is a mash-up of the witches in Macbeth and Boudicca bringing down curses on these “filthy capitalist swine” while serving them spiteful platefuls of foul food dredged up from her steaming cauldron.

Whisky, women and cigars are more in Randolph’s line as is boring the hell out of Waugh with his endless, boastful and repetitive anecdotes.

The cut and thrust between Simon Pontin as Randy and Neil Chinneck as Waugh is rapier sharp and Martha Dancy galvanises the action as the perfect spitfire.

Nico Menghini’s sound design brings the theatre of war frighteningly alive, but his bombing raids are tempered by the soothing strains of Vera Lynn, Bud Flanagan, Noël Coward and Gracie Fields. Enough to make any warrior happy.

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