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Blonde Bombshells of 1943

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

It's not every day you see a girl band on the stage in Pitlochry, even if it is a World War Two prototype. This is what you get, however, in Ben Occhipinti's summer season revival of Alan Plater's little smasher of a play, which sees Emily Patry's no-nonsense band-leader Betty recruiting a new line-up of swinging showband The Blonde Bombshells after the originals fall prey to the charms of American GIs. With Wendy Paver's stand-up bassist Grace and Alicia McKenzie's classically inclined pianist May already on board, Betty ends up recruiting a schoolgirl, a nun and a soldier, which, as Alexander Bean's very male drummer Patrick points out, sounds like a bit of a joke.

While the Blonde Bombshells revolving door policy sounds like a pre-cursor to the Sugababes, Lynwen Haf Roberts' naive clarinettist Liz, Fiona Wood's irrepressible George Formby singing Lily and Tilly-Mae Millbrook's posh socialite Miranda prove him wrong. As they put on their glad-rags to wow the airwaves at a morale-boosting radio broadcast in Hull, they become a fully working band.

Framed by the presence of Liz's grand-daughter sharing her hand-me-down memories, Plater's loving evocation of an era now only just within the realms of living memory is a charming portrait of sisters doing it for themselves. With Patry channelling an Annie Ross rasp as she swaggers through the auditorium, this is brought to life on Liz Cooke's dilapidated music hall set with a poignant sense of the loss that lies behind the surface wise-cracks.

Written as a prequel to Plater’s turn of the century TV film, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, this stage play is laced with a love for its era that goes beyond nostalgia. The show’s songs nevertheless conjure up a unifying sense of warmth that looks forward to brighter times, as girls keep swinging and singing, kick-starting a little musical revolution as they go.

The Herald, July 4th 2019



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