The White Mouse by Peter Maddern.
Kryztoff at the Goodwood Theatre. February 17-26. 2023 Adelaide Fringe.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.
Writer Peter Maddern has a penchant for exploring the lives and achievements of remarkable Australians. Last year I saw his production of The Eye of Wilkins that recounted the adventures of explorer, journalist and photographer Hubert Wilkins. This year he has remounted his production of The White Mouse, the amazing story of Australian World War 2 Resistance fighter, Nancy Wake, known as the White Mouse. Maddern’s play focuses on the final stages of the war when Wake was parachuted into France to assist the resistance fighters with their struggle against the Nazi occupation forces. Her exploits are the stuff of legend and the forthright, courageous White Mouse was eventually decorated with an AC in recognition of her part in turning the tide of the war against the enemy. Maddern introduces us to Wake, played with confident assertion by Emily-Jo Davidson when she arrives in France. The play then segues in a flashback to a Riviera café scene when she agrees to marry her French lover, Henri. It then returns to wartime and the capture of a young German soldier. The play concludes with an account by her French compatriot of Nancy Wake’s return to Australia, her decision to return to England where she is recognized and her eventual death in 2011 at the age of 98.
|Emily-Jo Davidson as Namcy Wake|
Unfortunately this production does not live up to the drama of the legend. Maddern’s writing is expository rather than imbued with a sense of danger and urgency. Narration is used to inform and although it offers insight into the nature of an exceptional woman, it lacks the force of theatre and interaction between characters. Only the café scene with its affectionate relationship between Wake and Henri strikes a heartwarming chord. The scene is also effectively complemented by film of prewar café society and recorded French song. There has been a conscious attempt to embellish the dialogue between Wake and Henri with atmosphere. The wartime scenes are appropriately stark but they fail to capture the atmosphere of circumstance.
It is not surprising that Davidson should occupy the central role in the play. Wake was by all accounts a feisty battler for the preservation of freedom and violently opposed to the Nazi quest for world domination, a philosophy Wake held and is clearly expressed in Maddern’s final confrontation between Wake and a young, arrogant and indoctrinated captured German soldier. Maddern’s script includes two other actors to take on the other various roles. They are not included in the programme. One actor plays Henri and Wake’s French compatriot. The other actor takes on a number of roles. Both actors appear to have difficulty with the French accent and the younger actor is often inaudible. Slow scene changes and unimaginative direction tend to lessen the production’s potential impact.
What Maddern and his actors do achieve is a pervading admiration and respect for a woman who stood for the finest principles and had the courage and the conviction to confront evil irrespective of the peril she faced or potential death. It is the same spirit that is driving the Ukranians in their courageous and morally right opposition to Russia’s evil invasion under an autocratic and obsessed leader. Whatever the failings of the production, its message is relevant and necessary at a time when the example of the White Mouse shines brightly in the Ukranian heart. Hopefully Wake’s prediction that the flawed man will always fail comes true.