WALLY Sewell’s Power Luncheon is built around the exchanges between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George VI that took place during the Second World War at their weekly meetings inside Buckingham Palace. At times, it seems they were more interested in waging war with each other than addressing far more urgent issues of state.
Sewell’s uses three specific times – 10 September 1940, 3 August 1943 and D-Day – as the play’s foundations. Although underpinned by historical facts about the war, the conversations are as imagined by Sewell (and what a vivid imagination he has). What ding dongs the two had.
The result is two flawed characters firing verbal volleys at each other – most of them from an emotional, highly strung King. They do so while consuming spam and potatoes, washed down with sufficient Bordeaux wine (1904) to sink a German battleship.
Both Churchill and George VI (Albert) are expertly played by Edmund Dehn and Peter Saracen respectively. Dehn’s Churchill presses all the right buttons – he’s strong, respectful and resilient when put under pressure by a questioning King (how Boris would have coped with such verbal volleys is an interesting conversation for a Friday night in the pub). Dehn is rarely seen without a cigar hanging from his mouth – the size of which resembles a smoking oak tree.
Saracen’s George VI is a rather troubled individual. One moment seeking Churchill’s affirmation and desire to be his only male friend (how sad). The next, displaying rages of jealousy, fuelled by too much alcohol. Throughout, he questions Churchill’s decision making. He seems infatuated with his Prime minister. Fawning one moment, the next spitting venom like a cobra. The King seems a lost and lonely soul rattling around in a palace while bombs drop on London.
The exchanges are fascinating. Mothers seem to feature strongly with the King not missing an opportunity to poke fun at Winston for being obsessed about meeting his mother’s high expectations of him. Then there’s the reasons why neither of them participate in Operation Overlord (the play’s programme includes a fascinating letter written by the King to Churchill about why they should not go to sea on D-Day).
Yet the play is not without its flaws. Apart from the odd knocked over glass and the emptying of wine bottles, it’s all rather static. This is not helped by no food or wine actually being consumed – the plates and glasses are empty throughout. Presumably, it’s done because both would be waterlogged otherwise, given they are rarely without a glass in their hand.
What George VI would think of Power Luncheon I dread to think. He’d have a hissy fit for sure.
For the two mighty fine performances from Dehn and Saracen alone, Power Luncheon is worth a peek at. It’s showing at the marvellous Hope Theatre in Islington until 29 January. The director is Anthony Shrubsall and the producer is multi-talented Sarah Lawrie – who is starring in must see play the Good Dad (A Love Story) that starts at the Golden Goose Theatre in London’s Camberwell on January 26.