WhovianNet Review: Gabriel
WhovianNet was recently invited to attend the press night of Paul McGann’s new play, Gabriel, which transported Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre back to Nazi-occupied Guernsey in 1943 where a mother was doing everything in her power to keep her family safe despite the threat of the surrounding danger.
They say you should never judge a book by its cover (and rightly so!), but if we were to judge Gabriel on its production design, we would’ve guessed that we were about to sit through a domestic drama about an ordinary family adjusting to the struggles of living in a war-torn society. The set was understated – a kitchen on one side while, on the other, a raised platform sported a single bed. Although simple, our eyes were immediately drawn to its attention to detail. As the play started and we were introduced to the ensemble of characters, it soon became clear that a simple domestic drama this was not. This particular family, caught up in the terror of the times, was harbouring secrets of its own, and it didn’t take long for the intrigue to intensify as the story developed.
So, what is the story? We’ve given you the basic overview, but to tell you any more would ultimately ruin the experience. What we will say is that Paul McGann steals the show in his role as the elusive Commander Von Pfunz, who couldn’t be further away from his portrayal of the Eighth Doctor if he tried. We were, of course, already familiar with Paul’s formidable presence on screen, but it was a real joy to see his latest character come to life before our eyes, with his faultless German accent affirming what a versatile actor he is.
While we were initially drawn to the play by Paul’s involvement, the story itself is a real – predominately female – ensemble piece, and his co-stars, Belinda Lang, Jules Melvin, Robin Morrissey, Sarah Schoenbeck and Venice van Someren, all hold their own amidst the escalating drama, with the story giving each of them their respective time to shine. We particularly enjoyed Paul’s interactions with Belinda’s character, Jeanne Becquet, which added a dose of comic relief to the otherwise dark and mysterious proceedings.
While the story never leaves the four – nay, three – walls in which it is confined, Moira Buffini’s script, which is based on real life accounts from Guernsey, helps to create a believable backdrop to establish what life was like on the island during the time of the occupation. It wasn’t something that we knew much about before seeing the play, which didn’t hinder our enjoyment of it in any way, but it’s definitely a fresh take on an era in history that feels so familiar to us having been so heavily featured in works of fiction. At the same time, the play introduces a supernatural undertone, heralded by the youngest character of Estelle Becquet who believes that a young man washed ashore has been sent to them by an otherworldly force.
When we chatted to Paul before seeing the play, he described it as “a proper thriller”, and after seeing it for ourselves, we absolutely agree. It’s been 20 years since its last production in London but its revival will introduce the story to a new generation who are intrigued to discover more about a lesser known aspect of the Second World War. Having said that, the play will appeal to all generations, whether that be for nostalgia purposes or simply for the opportunity to partake in an enjoyable night out at the theatre.
You’ll definitely take something away from the play as it builds up to a climactic conclusion which enables you to make up your own mind about the events you’ve just witnessed. Whether you take it as simply black or white or find a deeper message entwined within its tale of redemption, the play still holds relevance today as the tour kicks off during a time which still sees social and political oppression throughout the world.
But, as the play affirms, in the darkest and most desperate of times, there is always the hope of salvation. Whatever the cost.
Gabriel is touring around the UK until May. You can find your nearest theatre and book your tickets here. Have you seen the play? Share your own reviews below…