WW2 undoubtedly remains one of the most important points in world history. It was a war that changed everything, culturally and politically, in both Britain and abroad. But Chamberlain: Peace in our Time transports you to just moments before then, as Neville Chamberlain (David Leeson) prepares the announcement of Britain’s war against Germany. Chamberlain is not mostly remembered as the PM who ushered in war, after having promised “peace in our time” only a year before. The play does not exactly exonerate Chamberlain’s wishful thinking, but brings a strong if slightly too wistful insight into his hope for peace, as the world prepared for war.
Peace in our Time forgoes the grander details or political factors of WW2 for a character-focus on Chamberlain himself. The PM is often engulfed by the political events that surrounded him, particularly given his quiet and self-admittedly “buttoned-down” demeanour. Indeed, Chamberlain and his assistant Jack (Colin Alexander) are already fearing comparisons with the extravagant and bullish Churchill, who is waiting outside Chamberlain’s office, ready to seize his seat. Leeson’s script is fascinated by the understated man who coveted high office, and how he found himself unsuited for the period he governed in; “the right man at the wrong time”.
Although it features Chamberlain’s resentment over his failure to secure peace, Peace in our Time is a surprisingly quiet and contemplative show. Chamberlain would likely have found it undignified to get outraged, and Leeson’s writing and performance follow suit, showing the PM’s regret and defeat through heavy steps and down-turned heads, too stuffy for extreme emotion. This keeps Peace in our Time a realistic portrait, if not an overly exciting one. The same is true of the scene interludes, where Colin Alexander performs live renditions of classic ‘30s songs, which again create an authentic sense of the time, but also stretch out an already plodding show. The weight put upon the past prevents the show from feeling alive or immediate.
Peace in our Time is a fine but dry telling of Chamberlain’s situation. Despite two commendable actors, the script is heavy on exposition, mostly imparting information directly to the audience. It definitely feels made for an older generation, which is fine, but also seems like a wasted opportunity. Instead, this sleepy and traditional short play tells its story solidly, but instead of existing for all time, it is contained to its own.
Chamberlain: Peace in Our Time is on at Greenside @ Nicolson Square – Emerald Theatre (Venue 209)
Until August 17th – 16:20
Tickets are available here
Image: Searchlight Theatre