Gabriel, All Saints Arts Centre, Friars Walk, Lewes.
THIS is the debut performance of newly formed Bryteye Productions, a professional theatre group based in Lewes. They also deserve congratulations for undertaking this challenging play, written by award-winning Moira Buffini, rather than a more well-established audience favourite.
Set on the island of Guernsey in 1943, which German forces have occupied for two and a half years, it addresses the suspicions and duplicity which existed between the islanders and their invaders. Had Hitler’s invasion of mainland Britain been successful, it is a scenario which might have been played out here many times over.
But this play, directed and designed by Matt Haynes, is not simply a docu-drama. It is the disturbing story of a man discovered naked and unconscious on a beach by Lily (Lisa Fairfield), whose husband is away serving in the RAF, and 12-year-old Estelle (Charlotte Brockes), daughter of Jeanne Becquet (Sandy Truman), widowed mother of Lily’s husband. They carry his almost lifeless body back to Becquet’s farmhouse where slowly he begins to recover. As he has suffered total memory loss and seems to have fallen out of the sky, he is given the name Gabriel (James Firth-Haydon). The sudden arrival of a total stranger is complicated by Mrs Becquet’s illicit relationship with a German officer, Major von Pfunz (Mike Truman), not a stereotype Nazi but English-speaking and poetry-loving. In the background is housekeeper, Lake (Chrys Tarr), also the ears and eye of the local community.
This is a sensitive performance full of multi-layered and painfully-true emotions.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that the violent ending is almost a relief to the sustained tension.
Von Pfunz’s statement, “poetry is the voice of truth”, might also be an appropriate epitaph for a play which is as much an examination of the heart as it is of the mind.