Initially appearing as part of one of Falling Pennies’ scratch nights, Doomed Resistance recently premièred in its new hour-long form at the Plymouth Fringe and is now providing lunchtime entertainment is part of this year’s Camden Fringe. Written by Simon Godfrey, it is a farce set in the early days of the First World War in Belgium.
General Ludendorff’s forces have reached a fortress at Liège, as part of the German plan to reach France. However, they haven’t counted on a single Belgian Commander to be the only thing standing in their way – or is he bluffing? Then commences a farcical battle of wits as each tries to outdo the other; the Commander being forced to play out conversations between himself and his wife, and Ludendorff resorting to Private Schmidt’s tea leaf reading to predict the war’s outcome. Will the Commander end up baffling the Germans into submission? And just why is Ludendorff ignoring his wife’s letters?
I was lucky enough to see the 15-minute version of this play back in November and felt it absolutely had the potential to be extended into a full-length play, so it’s wonderful to see just how well it works – and how much sillier it’s become as a result. All the elements of a classic farce are there in spades; Godfrey’s comic touch is a gift to performers. The selected anachronistic references, such as the presents Ludendorff tells us he’s been given, add to the hilarity – after all, historical accuracy isn’t the be-all and end-all in a comedy like this.
The setup is very basic, but that only adds to its charm. Plastic boxes form the door between the General and the Commander, metal buckets are useful both as seats and for sound effects, and all that’s needed to simulate a gun is a long tube. Considering the play is big on pretence it seems quite appropriate for the audience to use their imagination as far as props are concerned. Besides, writing as good as this being performed by equally talented actors doesn’t need bells and whistles to make a good show.
I actually ended up seeing the show twice, and had the treat of seeing two different Commanders: Simon Godfrey himself stepping in for Ryan Penny on Saturday. It was fascinating to see two very individual takes on the character, especially as both are very familiar with the role. Godfrey (in his Australian accent) presents a cocksure Commander, ever confident in his ability to talk his way out of any situation that confronts him. Penny’s seems to delight in the theatrics of it all, and is equally quick-witted. Both have enviable comic timing, really making the most of the increasingly absurd events.
Tea Poldervaart is an hilariously angry General Ludendorff, made even funnier as his frustration grows with the ineptitude of his own troops and at being outwitted by a lone Belgian (or should that be loan Belgian?). The cast is completed by Matthew Warhurst with a standout turn as Private Schmidt. There are echoes of Baldrick in Schmidt, though he’s much less of a doormat and less prone to a “cunning plan”… Warhurst has some truly ludicrous lines (horse union meeting, anyone?), but all the while maintains characteristic sincerity – which of course makes it all the funnier.
My verdict? Another success for Falling Pennies, delivering an hour of comedy gold through quality writing and performances – resistance is futile!
Doomed Resistance runs at Etcetera Theatre until 7 August 2017 as part of Camden Fringe. Tickets are available online or from the box office.