Venue: Greenwich Theatre.
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes (including one interval).
Director: Stuart Burrows.
Peter Nichols’ tongue-in-cheek, and very camp 1977 play, Privates on Parade, set in wartime Malaya, has been revived by Paul Claydon at Greenwich Theatre. The play revolves around the ‘Song And Dance Unit South East Asia’, a British combined services entertainment group embedded with troupes in Singapore and Malaysia in the 1940s.
Although billed as a play and not a musical, there are plenty of songs throughout the performance, along with a lot of stereotypically camp laughs. With all the fun and frivolity this production brings, it also touches upon some darker elements of war and the human psyche, with references to violence on women, homophobia and rejection.
The play begins with the arrival of Private Stephen Flowers, who later falls in love with the only female character, Sylvia Morgan. Stephen’s journey is one of acceptance of those around him, but after the death of the sergeant major, a promotion means his focus on Sylvia diminishes. We learn about the trials Sylvia has endured in her past life and also currently at the hands of the mean sergeant major.
The back-stories of the characters develop as the play rolls on, as we hear them read out their letters sent back home to loved ones and family. The characters relationships with each other are explored, and the romance has unforeseen consequences for the rest of the troop.
Captain Terri Dennis, played by Philip Lawrence provides the audience with a narrative to follow but also entertains with a variety of drag costume changes for each of the songs he tackles.
The first of two intervals was about 80 minutes, and after a break of 15 minutes, a second interval lasted about an hour. Since the theatre was extremely hot, I recommend buying large drinks with ice from the bar.
Since the theatre was extremely hot, I recommend buying large drinks with ice from the bar.