At its core, this is a high-flown true story about a mass escape from a nazi camp. But wait, there’s more! Here’s what you must do to get “Tom Dick and Harry” in its entirety: add some Monthy Python humour. Sprinkle with Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Nazis (“Jojo Rabbit,” anyone?). Add an epic, almost cinematic music score. Throw in nine fantastic actors in incredibly physically demanding roles. Voila! You have cooked yourself one of the best plays of 2022.
The story follows a group of WW2 war prisoners stuck in Stalag Luft III – a nazi camp based in Poland. Their legendary escape is planned carefully to the smallest detail and prepared for months. Eventually, three underground tunnels (named Tom, Dick, and Harry) pave the way to freedom for some (unfortunately not all)of the prisoners. That’s an essence of this story, which, besides providing a huge fun dose of “escapism” – a colossal keyword here- provides a window to a meticulously described daily life of prisoners in WW2.
A story straight from the pages of classified files
Theresa Heskins, Michael Hugo, and Andrew Pollard spent many days researching the subject. They studied top secret documents found in the National Archives in London and Imperial War Museum’s history archive and spoke to historians specialising in the matter. The outcome is a detailed, genuine portrayal of a day-to-day experience of WWII reality that spills out from the stage to the auditorium. The front row seats in Alexandra Palace look slightly different – because they are meant to look like the “theatre seats” from the prison camp, made of Red Cross Boxes. I was blown away!
“Tom, Dick and Harry” is not just a story of an escape. It’s also a story of humans stuck in a less-than-fortunate situation, their ideas for spending free time, their ways of dealing with limited food supply, and the unexpectedly partner-like relationship the prisoners had with the nazis who managed the camp. And surprisingly, it’s not one of those sad war stories. The show blends genres, but it sits more on the comedy side, and frankly, it interestingly adds to the story’s emotional weight.
A war camp life, with a tad of slapstick and puns
The script oozes sarcastic humour, slapstick, and puns – there’s a solid Monty Python influence I sensed, especially with the “translation device,” which is a recurring theme. The fourth wall between the audience and the performance is broken from the beginning, leading to frequent but balanced audience participation. I’m one of those people who cringe just thinking about involving the audience in the play, and the moment I see it mentioned, I hide in my seat. But here, it was well-thought, minimalistic, but amusing and never made me feel uncomfortable (even though I was sitting in a pretty exposed place in the front row). I think it’s the first play I’ve ever seen where I didn’t mind that interactive element at all – I was looking forward to it more and more. The little interval raffle tickets idea was brilliant and kept the audience excited and talking about the upcoming second act – such a strong effect from a simple idea.
“Tom Dick and Harry” – a demanding feat for nine actors
Let’s talk actors. “Tom Dick and Harry” is an extremely physically demanding play. Not just because of the final escape sequence (which is presented in an incredibly creative way and using fantastic staging, but I won’t spoil it here), but with everything that leads to the finale: there’s a gym sequence requiring some acrobatics. There’s even a hilarious fashion show! The performance includes plenty of stage changes that have to be done: big pieces like bunk beds, tables, and others are pulled on the stage within seconds. Finally, there are multiple outfit changes, some as quick as just a couple of seconds – each timed and performed to perfection.
The escapees’ team is led by RAF squadron leader and escape aficionado Ballard (Dominic Thorburn), who portrays almost a superhero-like character that, in this case, fits the play’s needs perfectly. The team also includes a “colorful bird,” artistic Janacek (Andrius Gaucas), who has a great comically serious style of acting, and a soldier/musician with a voice I wish I could hear more (Sam Craig). The roles of Germans are, frankly – the highlight of the show. Yes, they are caricaturally funny, but at the same time, their ridiculous jokes about imaginary doors and bells play a role in releasing the tension that grows as the play progresses.
The stage came to life with not just the furniture swiped right and left like Tinder matches but mainly with the projections that bring the cinematic element and that “epic” factor. Animated maps, drawings, and radar circles resemble war/action movies and elevate the play to a new level.
“Tom Dick And Harry” delivers lively, good-natured entertainment. It will keep you at the edge of the seat as if you’re watching “Die Hard” and then make you laugh as if you’ve just discovered a new Monty Python sketch. Just see it. You won’t find a more entertaining play this summer in London!
Writers: Theresa Heskins, Michael Hugo, and Andrew Pollard
Director: Theresa Heskins
Producers: Kenny Wax and the New Vic
Movement Director: Beverley Norris-Edmunds
Composer and Musical Director: James Atherton
Set Designer: Laura Willstead
Costume Designer: Lis Evans
Lighting Designer: Daniella Beattie
Sound Designer: Alex Day
Calypso Song Composer: Tobago Crusoe
Projection Design: Illuminos
Tom, Dick & Harry plays at Alexandra Palace until 28 August.
Information and bookings can be found here.