Reviews Bristol Published 9 May 2011

Operation Greenfield

Bristol Old Vic Studio ⋄ 6th - 8th May 2011

Little Bulb, big noise.

Tom Phillips
Little Bulb

Little Bulb, big noise.

Alice, Daniel, Molly and Violet are four teenagers growing up in the middle of Middle England – the village of Stokely, to be precise, where the only distractions from school are church, a Christian youth club and the annual village talent competition. Alice (Shamira Turner) is a maths nerd, fond of quoting mind-boggling equations; Daniel (Dominic Conway) is ‘commanding’ but gauche; Molly (Clare Beresford) strokes her Good News Bible and busily bashes the drums; Violet (Eugenie Pastor) is a French Catholic, smokes and has a dog called Henri.

The four of them form a band which, after an excursion into wistful folk music, arrives at the talent competition as the eponymous Operation Greenfield and perform what amounts to a mini rock opera based on the Annunciation (complete with Alice up a stepladder as ‘God’s busiest messenger’, the angel Gabriel). Along the way, there’s adolescent confusion a-plenty, mismatched conversations, abrupt non-sequiturs, awkward sexuality and a veritable display cabinet of teenage idiosyncrasies.

All wide-eyed ingenuousness, Little Bulb perform this musical yarn with reckless verve, enlisting everything from huge glasses of Forest Fruits squash and a kitsch plastic cross to Carmen Miranda masks and a cardboard cut-out Elvis to embellish what is a fairly frail story with inventive snapshot set-pieces and physical imagery. As with Little Bulb’s previous outings, like the family reunion-themed nautical folk musical Sporadical, there’s an engaging air of ramshackle improvisation and frenetic near-anarchy about the whole production, but the precision of the choreography and the casual musical virtuosity attest that this is a company who know what they’re up to (even if the audience sometimes doesn’t). The transition from Violet’s first lesson in playing bass, plodding along to David Bowie’s ‘Five Years’, into a full-on, slightly sinister, bemasked wig-out, complete with Alice’s lesbian fantasy and deflationary pathos at the end (‘So that was all a dream?’ asks would-be guitar hero Daniel, somewhat woefully) is a case in point: a wittily orchestrated piece of DIY spectacle and musical theatre.

As a company, it’s almost impossible not to like Little Bulb. Brimful of energy and enthusiasm, they are, quite frankly, endearing – and the polar opposite of po-faced experimentalism. Whether Operation Greenfield constitutes their finest hour and a half, though, isn’t quite so clear. Whilst the show is swathed in Christian language and imagery (there’s a lovely moment when God and the Devil play scissors-paper-stone for the soul of Eve in the Garden of Eden), religion remains something of a ‘given’, unexplored in any way beyond the surface differences between Catholic and Protestant church services. Similarly, whilst the frenetic pace helps generate a sense of teenage bewilderment at the mysterious goings-on of the rest of the world, the sheer busy-ness can seem overdone at times, and a bit more breathing space in some of the most breakneck scenes wouldn’t go amiss, if only to dispel the impression that they’re only there because they happen to make for a decent visual gag.

That said, Operation Greenfield is very far from being a dud. Plotting the emotional vagaries of growing up in village-green England, it celebrates a kind of geeky ‘ordinariness’ (which proves to be apocalyptically extraordinary in the final number) and offers a fresh and entertaining take on the usually rather dry and issue-obsessed theatre of adolescence.


Tom Phillips

Tom has lived in Bristol for 25 years. After ten years working in radio, became a freelance journalist, and is now chief sub-editor for Venue magazine. He’s published two collections of poetry (Reversing into the Cold War and Burning Omaha) and eight of his plays have been staged in Bristol and Bath, including Hotel Illyria and Arbeit Macht Frei. Having spent three summers idling around eastern Europe by train, he’s now studying for a PhD in travel writing at Reading University.

Operation Greenfield Show Info

Produced by Little Bulb

Directed by Alex Scott

Cast includes Clare Beresford, Dominic Conway, Eugenie Pastor, Shamira Turner


Running Time 1hr 25mins (no interval)



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