We went to a most unusual Kneehigh production of "A matter
of Life and Death" last night at the National Theatre's
Olivier Theatre in London.
Very loosely this play is based on the film by Michael
Powell/Emeric Pressburger. The fairytale plot centres on
a WWII RAF pilot Peter shot up by the Lufwaffe and who
has to jump from his flaming aircraft but without
a parachute. His co-pilot is already dead.
In the moments before jumping to
what is marked on his heavenly page as certain death, exchanges
by radio take place with a young ground-based WRAF
officer June, who becomes hugely concerned about his plight.
Peter and June during those deeply emotional radio
exchanges fall in love. Peter then jumps and then a little
like the contempory BBC 1 TV's "Life on Mars" hit, he seems to be
still be alive on an hospital bed dreaming maybe, or
actually living having found June and true love.
A heavenly courtroom is established and a trial takes
place to decide whether Peter can be permitted to defy
death in this way. He loses but for the first time ever in the
after-life, is afforded a right of Appeal.
Chief prosecutor is William Shakepeare.
Evidence for the proscution includes
those who families were split up by WWII bombings
of Dresden and Coventry. "Love" is the main evidence
for the defence. Love wins. Meanwhile back on
earth the surgeons are operating on Peter. Heaven
cannot interfer; will Peter's life in fact be saved?
In a dramatic twist a coin is tossed and a member of
the audience asked to say "heads" or "tails".
The answer is then whispered to the cast in whispers,
as presumably there are alternative endings depending
on the coin's spin and the actors need to know
The above summary though does not do justice to the
magnicent acting staging and props. The latter
include 6 old fashioned bicycles, 6 old fashioned
hospital beds wheeled, puffs of smoke, masses of fire
and some brilliant trapezee-style jumps and swings.
Some fantastically invigorating dance and music
scenes ensure that the 2hours 15 minutes action
time (without an interval) flashes by. A Jacob's ladder
accessed by a flight of hanging NHS beds clambered
over at times precariously, by June, and terrific
on stage groups of instrumentalists and singers
make for a really excellent play.
Add to the above the fact that courtesy of the Royal National
Theatre's "Travelex" sponsorship, tickets are only
£10 each, this magical musical drama is surely within most