This is a very funny show. After all, the British really are ridiculous and one of our great national strengths is the ability to laugh at ourselves. And the audience does plenty of that at Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain.
We’re at Nether Middleton where a battalion of American GIs have arrived in 1942 to help win the war but they need a course in cultural awareness. James Millard and Dan March play American officers trying to tutor their troops (gamely played by the audience). Matt Sheahan is an effete and soppy but “plucky” English officer trying to defend his countrymen’s ways against these brash Americans. And, the best joke of all is that it’s all based on a pamphlet published in 1942 and found in 2005 in the Bodleian library. It’s an unlikely starting point for an evening’s theatre but actually it’s terrific fun which feels fresh and original.
March as the American colonel has a way of bullying with his eyes and his feline growl of anger is a tour de force. He also does a lovely turn as an English Lord trying to teach the Americans to play cricket in a hurry. Sheahan does a good set piece trying to teach the Americans about pre-decimal British money which gets more and more complicated and silly as he goes. All three are talented comic actors (they and their director John Walton wrote the material themselves) but it’s James Millard who really stands out. As well as his excellent turn as the younger American officer continually trying to put March’s character straight, he does a delightful cameo of a predatory middle class English woman who speaks in a hammed up Celia Johnson Brief Encounter voice and a sparky stereotype of an entertaining elderly woman running refreshments in the village hall. All of this allows us to laugh at Marmite, Colman’s mustard, understatement, the weather, vegetable growing, passion for pets, village life and much more. And I didn’t expect when I entered the theatre that, an hour and half later this charistmatic trio would have me (and the rest of the audience) on my feet doing a morris dance, complete with handkerchiefs, to Glen Miller. Joyful stuff.
It’s daft and that’s why it works. Don’t miss it.
First published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-West%20End%20&%20Fringe-Instructions%20for%20American%20Servicemen%20in%20Britain&reviewsID=2894