“We are London, and you can’t break us. Not then, not now.” Equal parts tender and powerful, London Calling is an enthralling exploration of how England’s capital city copes with the unimaginable.
Premiering on the 80th anniversary of the start of the Blitz, London Calling is a poignant examination of London as a city of spirit, loss, and resilience. The Lockdown Theatre Company uses compelling narration and touching music to navigate the parallels between the Blitz and the coronavirus pandemic, exploring how the capital perseveres in mortal crises. London Calling finds strength in its carefully crafted storytelling and heartfelt performance, but, at times, falls short in handling its comparisons.
In keeping with its name, The Lockdown Theatre Company burst into the online theatre scene at the beginning of the nationwide lockdown, providing paid opportunities for actors struggling in the pandemic. This communal spirit, creative innovation and resilience seen in the face of hardship is certainly reflected in London Calling; writer, director, producer and company founder Rohan Candappa’s script is captivating in its poetic confrontation of death, weaving a tapestry of unity and pain that is skilfully handled by actor and composer Guy Hughes. We are invited to turn back our watches and fly through history on the wings of transportive storytelling, creating a seventeen-minute long monologue that is both enlightening and moving.
Hughes’ role as an unnamed narrator is deeply engaging and complex; he holds an air of mystery that is, at times, permeated by palpable fury held firmly behind the eyes at the social injustices of the pandemic, providing an incisive look at the politics of pain. This enigmatic narration is accompanied by his striking musical composition, breathing life into previously unperformed lyrics written by ARP warden Ronald Fuller in 1940 by setting them to new music. The song is hauntingly tender, reaching into the core of communal loss as a constant, pervasive reality. There are times, however, when the sincerity of the new melody obscures some of Fuller’s cheekier, darker lyrics, and the sudden shift from monologue to music feels somewhat awkwardly shoehorned in.
This awkwardness is also felt at the crux of London Calling’s comparison between the Blitz and the coronavirus pandemic. The weekly death toll of coronavirus at one point outstripping that of the Blitz forms the foundation of some apt comparisons, such as the unpredictability of a future filled with unexploded bombs, both real and metaphorical. However, brief discussions of Hitler’s leadership feel reductive, describing the Blitz and the pandemic as the results of “an evil man and a non-sentient virus”. Though attempts to mitigate the crassness of the comparison are made, this is often done by acknowledging the potential for such problems without actually avoiding them. The piece’s navigation of this difficult comparison would have benefited from more developmental time than has been allowed by the company’s recent formation.
London Calling captures Londoners as a “stubborn bunch of fools and heroes”, striving to continue in times of fear and uncertainty. Such hardiness is felt strongly in the ethos of The Lockdown Theatre Company, reflecting the unity and strength so desperately needed by creators in the face of theatre closures, underfunding, and industry precarity. While London Calling asks us to consider the long-term damages of the pandemic, it also reassures us that we are not in this alone.