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Doomed Resistance
Etcetera Theatre
6th August 2017

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Doomed Resistance

Photography provided by Falling Pennies

When Major-General Ludendorff (Tea Poldervaart) rides ahead to the Citadel of Liège to offer the Commander (Ryan Penny) the opportunity to surrender, he's taken aback when the answer is a firm 'no, thank you'. It seems like the Belgian might be bluffing, with his claim of tens of thousands of soldiers inside ready to defend their post, but equally, the Major-General's men don't seem to be catching him up any time soon. Whilst the childhood retort "Yeah? You and whose army?" is never actually uttered, the sentiment is definitely there as the two man square off against each other. There's an inevitability of defeat in the title of Simon Godfrey's Doomed Resistance, however with the sheer amount of bravado and wordplay being fired back and forth over the citadel wall, the rest of the war may well reach a conclusion before one of these men backs down.

Set during the Great War, this play is only very loosely based on historical events. Anyone who found Braveheart upsetting due to the inaccuracies in it may find this this interpretation of what happened at the Citadel of Liège similarly difficult, but the liberties taken with history here really are worth it for the extremely funny payoff. Penny's camp and energetic Commander contrasts well against Poldervaart's more serious, gruff Ludendorff, making for a farce with a similar style of humour to Dad's Army. It's all about bluffs, double bluffs and accidental misunderstandings rather than anyone succeeding due to having a cunning plan, with excellent use of pauses to create humour. Although it's fast and funny throughout, director Rebecca Blake clearly appreciates the value of a bit of silence when timed correctly.

As well as the two leaders huffing and puffing, further light relief arrives in the form of Private Schmidt (Matthew Warhurst). His superior officer, Ludendorff, may be trying to overthrow the citadel as quickly as possible, however Schmidt is more of the slow and steady personality. With an often dreamy, vacant expression, it takes him far longer to process what's just been said than it really should. Schmidt is a delightfully entertaining buffoon and no one (not even him) seems to really mind shooting him for the funsies. Warhurst and Poldervaart are a hilarious double act and it's a shame Schmidt never actually defects to Belgium, because I'd really like to see Warhurst against Penny as well.

Plastic storage boxes stacked together are used to mark the outer wall of the citadel, but when one of the main characters spends the whole play strutting around in a dressing gown with a towel round his neck, a more sophisticated set is unnecessary. It's not that kind of play. This basic design fits with the overblown humour and allows for rapid scene changes (after all, moving an empty plastic box takes mere seconds). Anything more complicated might force a let up in Blake's tight pacing, which is key to the success of this production.

Although there are a few digs at equality matters like union rights and racism, Godfrey's writing always only ever gently pokes fun at political correctness and never actually offends. That's a really hard balance to achieve. Doomed Resistance is a wildly funny production and I'd love to see it ride again after the Camden Fringe. More, please.

Doomed Resistance opened on 3rd August and runs until 7th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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