Coventry war comedy well done but with a misplaced ending

Miriam Grace Edwards, Aimee Powell and Kimisha Lewis
Miriam Grace Edwards, Aimee Powell and Kimisha Lewis

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Over The Top at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Over The Top is an attempt at a light-hearted romp through the trenches of WW1.

It’s hard to avoid the contradictions in that sentence, but Nick Walker’s annual alternative to Christmas fare at the Belgrade Theatre has a good go at it.

It is 1917, the war is (they think) almost over. Somewhere behind enemy lines four female performers have become trapped while attempting to bring a little cheer to the troops. A daring mission led by music hall artistes Bell (Laura Tipper), Ashwell (Aimee Powell), Flowers (Kimisha Lewis) and Mickey (Miriam Grace Edwards) is arranged to get them out. But can they do it?

Swapping roles as fast as a spy puts on a false moustache, the fearless four fake up as Mad General Frontbottom, sorry, Sidebottom; fabled French pilot Dutrieu; The evil Red Baron, complete with inflatable aeroplane, and many, many others. Puns flow like water across the stage, and the slapstick is as slippery as a bar of soap on the bathroom floor as the performers tumble, fall and dance athletically across the stage.

Which is fine and was well done. But I couldn’t help but feel that the epilogue to the show, a short homily read by the four actors to the actual women who served in or above the trenches, some of whom were parodied in the characters in the show, was a little misplaced. By all means let us laugh at the horrors – it's arguably the best response – but for the sympathy to work one has to really care about the characters, which I don’t think one can do in a pantomime type show like this.