Earlier this year a job advert for a police constable on the Isle of Scilly attracted applicants from as far away as Thailand, Australia and the US.
Advertised as “possibly the most enviable” police job going, it presumably wasn’t the reward of new challenges or working as part of a dedicated team that piqued the interest of so many. The applicants’ desires instead finding their echo in a whole history of American movie scripts – to have a little place of their own.
The fate of the Spitfire Grill of the title hinges on this apparently universal desire to get away from it all and pass the time in a rocking chair rather than at the coalface.
Percy Talbott, arrives in Gilead, Wisconsin fresh from a five-year prison sentence hungry to encounter first hand the rural American landscape she has pored over in books for so long behind bars.
And later, when it comes to raffling off the Spitfire Grill itself, the owners are inundated with pleas from all over the country to be considered as proprietor of their own little place.
According to Percy’s parole officer however, Gilead is “a place for leaving, not for coming to” so disagreeable is this outpost of civilisation that he confesses “if the bus hadn’t left I’d have put you back on it”.
And sure enough, the small-mindedness of small town America threatens Percy, a woman with a chequered past not yet able to share the details of her misdemeanours, all the way. But gradually its charms aid her recovery and help her to convalesce.
The Union Theatre’s revival, directed by Alastair Knights, has an extremely simple design. There’s no set to speak of apart from the occasional piece of furniture hauled on stage by the cast. The Union theatre itself is extremely intimate and the modest chamber orchestra is comprised of only piano, guitar and accordion. So the emphasis is on the performers to deliver, and they do. Clear and confident, the cast of seven depict the inhabitants of Gilead with a truth and honesty that avoids the trap of maudlin sentimentality that this story often threatens. What we get instead is driven, engaging and full of heart.
The music is catchy (if not memorable) infused with bluegrass and country and the pacing of the piece drives through right to the end. The book is extremely faithful to the film in all but the ending. Perhaps it was the themes of redemption and messianic sacrifice that attracted the original Catholic investors to the film. The version presented on stage however opts for a happier ending, sidestepping the potential for a tearjerker finale.