Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain
Jermyn Street Theatre
Created by Dan March, Jim Millard, Matt Sheahan and John Walton, Directed by John Walton
Reviewed by Stu Daye
Three actors playing a diversity of parts can be a recipe for confusion, but Dan March, Jim Millard, Matt Sheahan (aka sketch-comedy trio The Real MacGuffins ) have an incredible ability to keep the audience’s attention focused – and they’re brilliantly funny with it.
They handle the audience as if we are all in Twelve O'Clock High (the 1949 movie about aircrews in the United States Army's Eighth Air Force). We feel like Americans being briefed for a mission, but instead of a bombing raid we’ve recently arrived in Britain and we’re being briefed about how to behave in our new home – especially to the native Brits.
There are two Yanks, a laid back Sergeant and a gruff, unforgiving Colonel who gets into a row with a British officer. Despite their ‘hands across the water’ intentions they get into humorous confrontations, the clash of the US and UK cultures of the day beautifully described. The only common thing between them seems to be that they were both fighting Hitler.
One highlight comes when the British officer explains the monetary system – pounds, shillings and pence. (See the photo at right.) As an American I found myself finally understanding what a farthing is to a tuppence! Americans will find it fun, but interesting too.
The advice, based on a real booklet issued to US personnel as they arrived in the UK to join World War II, included not telling the Brits that they’d arrived to save them (after all, they’d been fighting for three years already), not bragging about their superior pay, and not stealing their girls. In one great line we’re told “The British are tough - the English language didn't spread across the world because these people were panty-waists!”.
The script occasionally takes us out of the briefing room, where we, the audience, really feel like US flyers, into flights of fancy including quips about modern politics. Sticking to that hut in 1942 would center the audience better and keep us ‘in character’.
While playing up the comedy, in ridiculous arguments, the characters are completely believable. The Brits in the audience found it all hilarious. So did this American.