In stuffy heat and in a stifling job Grace dreams of a future free from her family, from the Australian mentality; a fresh start in a cold, clear elsewhere.
The end of the Second World War is being played out and Sydney is still awash with sailors waiting to be demobbed. While Grace is not particularly interested in anyone her eye is caught by broad-shouldered Englishman, Alan. He might not offer all the excitement and romance she craves but a slightly less than whirlwind romance leads to marriage.
As Alan ships out she is left only with his letters, seeing the ocean waves in the curves of his sentences. Now the battle of the war brides begins as they fight to join their husbands before they sink from their memories.
Grace is elated when she wins a place on the aircraft carrier that will take 650 war brides on a six week crossing to the United Kingdom. The young brides brood on the privations of the seeming endless journey over the choppy green ocean and latterly mingle with the crew despite the captains attempts to contain them.
A stop-over in Port Said provides a welcome break, and for Grace an all too short taste of freedom in the exotic back streets and souks of this cross-roads of the world.
Docking in bomb damaged Portsmouth, the end of the journey spells a return to earth and a variety of realities for the young war brides. England is certainly cold but it’s not clear that it’s what Grace expected. She too is not the exotic creature the villagers had in mind, speaking excellent English and being white. Alan’s little village with the funny name might be picture book perfect but is it right for a happy ever after?
The story is based on real life events also fictionalised by Jo Jo Moyes in her book “The Ship of Brides”. Delivered as a monologue, often in the formal clipped tones of a Pathe Newsreel and occasionaly lyrical, it’s meticulously researched and cleverly constructed. The simple washing-line set with live music and sound effects are put to good use, although a more intimate venue might have been better and the acoustics are not ideal. Additional lighting would also have helped break up the look.
It’s a fine, highly professional production and a great piece of storytelling, but it’s difficult to feel close to the characters and it doesn’t entirely tug at the heart strings as the peaks and troughs of such an epic voyage might.
Show Times: 2 to 23 August (not 15) at 8.45 pm.
Ticket Prices: Free (donations at end) as part of PBH’s Free Fringe.
Suitability: 12+ (guideline).