Based on once sealed, top secret war archived documents from 1943, the New Vic Theatre’s latest production sets out to debunk the myths, honour the people involved and tell the true story of the most daring escape attempt in World War history.
Tom, Dick and Harry is set in Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp in Nazi occupied Europe during WWII. Above ground is a prison impossible to escape – but digging deeper, the prisoners spy an opportunity.
The ‘inescapable’ camp housed serial escapees – those who had spied their chance of freedom ‘more themes than Hitler had hot bratwurst’, with captors keeping a close eye on any upturned soil or strange goings on.
The new play is based upon 15,000 images of documents that were classified until 1972 – the closest thing to first hand experience of what would go on to be known asThe Great Escape.
Theresa Heskins, New Vic Artistic Director, and director of Tom, Dick and Harry, said: “Delving into the archives, we learned that this legendary escape was a huge international collaboration. We were determined to share that aspect of the history, even though developing and casting the play during a pandemic, with travel so restricted, made for a special challenge.
“We’re glad that our cast’s heritages and lived experiences – from Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, East Africa, the Americas, Canada, Germany – reflect both the global alliances at the heart of this remarkable story, and the inclusive country we live in today.”
The cast includes co-writers Michael Hugo as Bob and Andrew Pollard as Wings, alongside fellow New Vic favourites Perry Moore as Fritz and Nicholas Richardson as Landry. Joining them was Sam Craig as CJ, David Fairs as Giesler, Andrius Gaučas as Janacek, Dominic Thorburn as Ballard and Eddy Westbury as Lucky Jimmy. And it’s at this point you may be wondering, ‘well who are Tom, Dick and Harry?’.
Tom, Dick and Harry were the code names given to the three tunnels dug as part of the escape plan, carefully carved muffled by the sound of gymnastic exercise, choir practice and cabbage growing.
Set in the round, every inch of the auditorium was used to bring this escape to life, making use of the rafters, the walkways, the stairs and even an audience member or two. Totally immersing, front row ticket holders may be called upon to answer phones and shout to warn for guards, while others are tasked with much more important roles relating to the escape mission. It’s interactive, engaging, and truly one of the most intelligent pieces of original theatre I’ve ever seen.
Featuring stomp style dance routines, live action rewinds and seamlessly integrated set changes, the whole nine-man cast appeared to move as one, which is a credit to Theresa, the actors and the camaraderie between them all, both on and off stage, in and out of character. Each of the cast members pulled their weight in bringing this story to life, and fully deserved the standing ovation they received at curtain call.
Tom, Dick and Harry is a production where everything has been thought of, with immense creativity and artistic flair. Comedy has been injected into the smallest moments, with an invisible door leaving audiences with their sides splitting. But sometimes it’s just the bits that weren’t meant to happen that are the most memorable, like when Pollard drops the German to English translation box and, without breaking character, simply weaves his actions into the fabric of the performance.
The story itself was entirely engrossing, and extremely interesting to learn about through the medium of theatre, learning how the prisoners fashioned buttons from chocolate wrappers and carved rubber stamps from the soles of their shoes. The transformative costumes were magnificent, offering a moment of magic happening before your very eyes.
Everything about Tom, Dick and Harry required a military precision which was emotionally and outstandingly exercised. Filled with drama, humour and breath-taking theatricality, I quite literally found myself holding my breath as the men made a break for it through the tunnel.
It was amazing to see how the stage was used to imitate above and below ground, and really did justice in telling the extraordinary true story – one of both solidarity across nations, and of an unbreakable spirit to achieve the impossible.
The exhilarating cat-and-mouse story is so spectacularly told in all its intricate details, including an audio recording from Alex Cassie – one of those who helped forge documents for the escape.
Tragically, of the 76 escapees, 73 were soon recaptured, and 48 shot dead in an act of atrocity against prisoners of war.
Captivating, emotional and utterly breath-taking, Tom, Dick and Harry is premiering at the New Vic Theatre until July 9 before transferring to Alexandra Palace in London. For more information visit newvictheatre.org.uk.