Theatre company, Fol Espoir, are touring their show Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain with Live & Local/Shindig. Inspired by the 1942 pamphlet given to GIs on their way to Blighty, the show takes the audience back to the British home front, where two American officers have been charged with explaining British life to their recently arrived countrymen. The problem is, they’ve only just arrived themselves!
We got in touch with Fol Espoir’s Artistic Director, John Walton, to have a Q&A about the show and the company……..
Why did you choose to adapt this 1942 pamphlet for the stage?
I stumbled upon the Instructions in Waterstone’s a few years ago, and I’ve been wanting to make a show based on them ever since. They’re such an endearing and loving snapshot of the country at a unique moment in its history. At the same time, they just seemed perfect for comic exploration.
How true have you kept to the original instructions?
It’s always tricky to make something theatrically interesting yet still true to the source material. When we adapted Churchill’s auto-biography into Winston On the Run we knew it was more important to keep to the spirit than the actual letter of his words. It’s the same with the Instructions. Fortunately Dr Samuel Fanous – the force behind the Oxford University Bodleian Library’s decision to re-publish the instructions – came along to our work-in-progress performance and loved it, so we must be doing something right!
What were your inspirations when making the show?
I grew up adoring Dad’s Army, and that kind of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia is definitely at the heart of the show. I also have some very close American friends, have travelled lots in the US, and used to work as a tour guide for Americans in London. There’s something so wonderful about their attitude to life, which is so completely different to our own; I wanted to explore those differences. In addition, as I was doing my research on the period, I was constantly moved by the tales of bravery and fortitude exhibited by the men and women of that period. Our show is very funny, but I would be devastated if people thought it was disrespectful.
You started work on the show in November 2014. What has been the journey of this production?
We always knew that this show would tour to a mix of urban and rural venues, so one of the key aims was to develop the show in residence at a local village hall. The Theatre Chipping Norton helped us find a host venue, and we spent two weeks in Steeple Aston, meeting residents, hearing their stories of the war, exploring the local history and visiting the nearby USAF base. We had a brilliant time, and the experience fed directly into the show. Also, early on we had a couple of ‘work-in-progress’ performances, which helped us test ideas and see what was working. I find it impossible to make a show without trialling versions in front of an audience. They tell you everything you need to know. Then it was just a case of refining what we had and trying to make it as funny as possible.
What attracts you, as a director, to comedy?
Much as I adore to laugh, I used to think there was something a little cheap about comedy, as if it wasn’t a quite grown-up enough thing to spend one’s life making. Fortunately I’ve got over that, mainly because I think there’s so much misery in the world, and if I can bring a little joy and fun, then that’s a pretty amazing contribution. Also, as a comedy director, my job is essentially just to sit there while a group of actors try and make me giggle. It’s not a bad way to spend my time!
Don’t miss Instructions for American Servicemen In Britain by Fol Espoir at the following venues:
Mon 12 Oct, 7:30pm at Heanor Baptist Church, 117 Derby Rd, DE75 7QL
Tickets: £9.50 Standard / £7.50 OAP or Student
Box Office: 01773 718 676
Tues 13 Oct, 7:30pm at Pinxton Village Hall, 3 Kirkstead Road, NG16 6NA
Tickets: £8.50 Full Price / £7 Unwaged
Box Office: 01773 580 046
Wed 14 Oct, 7:30pm at Anslow Village Hall, Main Road, DE13 9QE
Box Office: 01283 814 113
Fri 16 Oct, 7:30pm at Stoke Bliss and Kyre Village Hall
Bromsyard Road, WR15 8RS
Tickets: £8.50 Full Price / £6.50 Under 16
Box Office: 01885 410 588
Sat 17 Oct, 7:30pm at Marchington Village Hall, The Square, ST14 8LH
Tickets: £8.50 Standard / £7 Under 16
Box Office: 01283 820 583
Mon 19 Oct, 7:30pm at Pattingham Village Hall, The High Street, WV6 7BB
Tickets: £9 Standard / £8 Senior Citizen or Students in Full Time Education
Box Office: 01902 700 586