This February will see the re-streaming of a rehearsed reading of the all-star drama Little Wars, featuring critically-acclaimed performers such as Juliet Stevenson and Linda Bassett. Originally workshopped Off-Broadway, Little Wars by Steven Carl McCasland made its digital premiere in November last year.
Set in 1940, on the night France capitulated to Germany, Little Wars is based on an imagined dinner party meeting of literary figureheads in the French Alps home of Gertrude Stein and her lover Alice B Toklas.
Also attending are Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and Agatha Christie, along with mystery guest Muriel Gardiner who reveals herself to be an anti-fascist freedom fighter. As the wine flows the evening becomes a battle ground for Stein and Hellman, but also offers a form of confessional for some of the characters, and leads to questions about collective responsibility in a time of humanitarian crises.
As the stories of the women unravel McCasland’s dialogue is striking and at times beautifully poetic. Christie explains the cause of her famous 11-day disappearance, while Parker expresses the guilt she still feels about a teenage abortion. When the German Jewish maid Bernadette (Natasha Karp), later recounts her distressing experience of gang rape by Nazi soldiers, the drama transitions into the play’s wider theme of war and anti-Semitic persecution
Little Wars still feels very much like a work in progress. McCasland’s current draft obsesses with the imagined conflicting dialogue between the distinctive celebrities, and crucially fails to move along the more engaging story of the question of personal commitment towards rescuing Jewish people from Germany.
The endless campy bitchfest between Stein and Hellman and competitive intellectual posturing of the characters becomes quite wearing after a while, and causes the play to lag. Also, some of the lines given to McCasland’s chosen celebrity personalities sound predictably contrived.
As to be expected with actresses of this calibre, all performances are strong. Juliet Stevenson is excellent as the hard faced Hellman, while Linda Bassett as Stein proves to be a razor sharp adversary. As the peacekeeper of the evening Catherine Russell as Alice Tolkas gives a lovely gentle performance, while Sarah Solemani is intriguing as the socially conscientious Muriel.
Despite occasional sound issues, director Hannah Chissick manages to keep this zoom style reading fairly fluid as the actors play from their virtual squares. The potential of Little Wars is apparent and it would be interesting to see how the production works live on stage once live theatre returns.
Little Wars will be available to stream via Stream.Theatre for two weeks from 1st– 14th Feb 2021.