The unmistakable, piercing sound of an air raid siren makes a suitably startling opening, but be prepared to be similarly startled by the writing and delivery of London Calling by Rohan Candappa.
2020 marks 80 years since start of the Blitz. This year has also seen deaths from COVID-19 at its peak exceed those killed in the air attacks on London. This grim but all too real parallel was Candappa’s inspiration. This 17 minute monologue is the finale to a series of short works he wrote for the Lockdown Theatre Company which was specifically set up to support actors left with nothing as theatres and arts venues closed their doors at the height of the global pandemic.
From the outset of London Calling, the poetic quality of Candappa’s words is matched by the masterly command of timing and expression in the performance of Guy Hughes. It makes for spellbinding viewing despite simply being a man in front of a camera against a blank wall. It is all in the words and the delivery which says so much in such an understated fashion. The screen, too, seems to add intensity of the piece which I don’t think would have been achieved in quite the same way on stage.
The carefully crafted account of the social history of the past 80 years effectively brings the years 2020 and 1940 together so we see “parallel after parallel” between the days when “an evil man (Hitler) wanted to break the will of the people” and the days of the lockdown when we “stayed at home, protected the NHS and saved lives” and didn’t “…run off to our bolt-hole in Durham.”
The ”curve-flattened days of a peak that is past” could equally describe the aftermath of the pandemic or the devastation of the bombings of the Blitz as could the references to a city “waiting for the damage” to come from unexploded bombs of both physical and metaphorical kind.
Hedges’ performance of the moving words of the ARP warden, Ronald Fuller set to music composed by Rohan Candappa is another poignant link between the past and the present. The reference to redundant theatre workers volunteering for the ARP should strike a chord with those who the Lockdown Theatre Company is aiming to support today as they are forced to seek alternative employment.
The comparison of the pandemic with a world war in London Calling may seem, on the surface to be a little simplistic and some would bemoan the London-centrism as neither event was confined to the capital. However, sometimes it is best not to go into details but instead make broad, ideological statements to make a point. In both 1940 and 2020, Londoners proved themselves to be a “stubborn bunch of fools and heroes”. Indeed, in both cases, “when the siren finally sounds all clear, we will watch and see who runs for cover.”