Clouds (King’s Head)

Time and Again Theatre have brought this one-hour show down from Edinburgh for a short tour in London. Writer Laura Crow continues in the role of Winifred ‘Freddy’ Baxter, a forthright woman who wishes to become a pilot and take part in a major race.

The time in 1913, the place is a private airfield on the land of wealthy enthusiast Sir Hugh. We are on the cusp of war, with “rumblings in Europe”. The suffragettes are stepping up their campaign to obtain votes for women.

Laura Crow, centre. Photograph from the Edinburgh production.
Laura Crow, centre. Photograph from the Edinburgh production.

The staging is simple: a period plane dominates the space, and props are minimal. Freddy’s friend, Sylvia (Jessica Balmer), and brother, Teddy (Kieran Palmer) are supportive of her adventurous spirit, but flying instructor Bloom (Tim Cooper) and “Lady M” (Julia Burrow) take time to warm to her unconventional spirit.

With several revelations coming through during the play about Lady M’s past, Bloom’s family life (an interesting but undeveloped take on domestic violence), and the injustice which has plagued the lives of the Baxter children, flying tends to take a back seat at times.  Indeed we only hear the sound of a plane once, in the extremely effective final scene.

A sweet and understated love story between Teddy and the innocent, naive Sylvia, has potential, but the shadows of both potential national conflict and political suffrage intervention seem to foretell a future as stormy as the clouds Teddy loves so much.

Laura Crow in Clouds
Laura Crow in Clouds

There are strong scenes between Freddy and Bloom, who clearly develop a liking and respect for each other; and between Freddy and Lady M (who has stepped aside from her own love of the skies and mechanicals to become “a lady and a wife” in a marriage filled with the disappointment of having no children).

I would have preferred to see Freddy soaring into triumph into the skies rather than dealing with the spectre of illness, but it gives an emotional arc that cuts through her brashness. She’s well-played as a no-nonsense Northern woman who copes reasonably well in society: she’s no Sylvia, who is elegantly poised and well spoken, but she’s no inferior, either.

Clouds feels as if it has many stories still to tell, and with a larger budget and duration, it could be a deeply involving show about inspirational women. It’s well on the way, and I would urge you to take a look when it returns to the New Wimbledon Studio from 25-27 November.