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Star of Strait Street

by on 14 November 2018

Small Island, Big HeartWW1 IWM logo

Star of Strait Street

by Philip Glassborow

Morning Star at OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 14th November

Review by Eleanor Lewis

To reach Strait Street in Valetta on the island of Malta, you cross Palace Square where the plaque quoting George VI’s letter awarding the George Cross to the island can be seen on the side of the Grandmaster’s Palace. It attracts tourists who naturally admire it but probably have little concept of the personal sacrifices made by so many individuals that together made Malta’s resistance to the German onslaught of World War Two as strong as it was. The Star of Strait Street is the story of one woman’s contribution to Malta’s glorious war effort.

Strait Street today is home to some of the less touristy cafes, jewellery workshops and shops selling the other thing the island is famous for, beautifully worked filigree silver. Back in the forties, service personnel and civilians made their way to the Morning Star nightclub there, where the singing and dancing skills of Christina Ratcliffe and her concert party, the Whizz Bangs, took their minds off war for a while.

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Based on the true story of the entertainer Christina Ratcliffe and the love of her life, Adrian ‘Six Medals’ Warburton, the RAF’s most decorated photo-reconnaissance pilot, Star of Strait Street is a new musical play. At just about an hour’s length, like Malta it’s small but striking in the atmosphere it creates. There is little scenery, a couple of standing boards with photographs and posters of the era, a piano and a chair but writer Philip Glassborow, uses Ratcliffe’s cheerful, unsentimental voice to bring to life a vivid picture of Europe as it was from the late ‘30s into the war years.

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Polly March and Larissa Bonaci play Christina: March as she was in the ‘70s and Bonaci as her younger self, March playing a smattering of other characters too. March has one of those well-rounded ‘been everywhere, seen everything, shocked by nothing’ voices, it is a mix of Mary Poppins and Fenella Fielding, both authoritative and comforting and March gives a measured performance of total confidence and great wit, easily working an audience and taking them with her wherever she wants to, as she tells the story of this remarkable woman’s life.

Christina Ratcliffe’s story is interesting in itself. Brought up in the Cheshire countryside, she began her dancing career in London but progressed into Europe touring various exotic locations, landing in Spain on the opening day of the Civil War and ultimately in Malta in 1940. Alongside performing at the Morning Star (which she and her troupe turned in to one of the post popular clubs in the Mediterranean), she worked as a volunteer plotter in the Lascaris RAF HQ underneath Valetta for six months (and was herself decorated for gallantry) while Malta was relentlessly pounded by Luftwaffe bombing and the island pushed to the edge of starvation. All of which Christina refers to pragmatically, there is no regret, no sentiment and reference to the privations and difficulties she and the islanders experienced is made briefly and viewed as something to be dealt with rather than dwelt on. Clever writing is matched with understated performance.

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Larissa Bonaci plays the younger Ratcliffe as a cheerful, positive woman who rose to address a period of time in which every stable and reliable feature of life was thrown up in the air, to come down who knew where. She has a clear and sweet singing voice suited to the ‘cheer up’ songs of wartime and her brisk demeanour as Christina brings a credibility to her performance despite a slight non-UK accent. The two performers were accompanied by pianist and MD Geoffrey Thomas, occasionally adding his voice when required for small interjections from other characters.

The tiny but indefatigable island of Malta received its George Cross “For acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.” The course of Ratcliffe and Warburton’s love story is probably predictable and certainly familiar to anyone who fell in love in wartime, but their personal dignity, bravery and their achievements form a small part of the huge picture that is the collective heroism of Malta.

The Star of Strait Street is a gem of a musical, it takes you right into the warm heart of Malta in the midst of war and makes you love it.

Recommended.

Eleanor Lewis
November 2018

Photography by E-P

One Comment
  1. Julie permalink

    I hope you will one day bring the show to the north Leeds, Bradford, wakefield, Sheffield. Looking forward to watching the show one day.

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