Review: Propaganda Swing

Propaganda Swing - Callum Coates as William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) - credit Robert Day.jpg
Propaganda Swing - Callum Coates as William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) - credit Robert Day.jpg

Propaganda Swing, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, until September 27.

All the ingredients for a great period play are here: a terrific art deco set, stylish 1930s fashions and a swinging jazz band.

But while each works well separately, somehow none of them really came together at the Belgrade last night (Tues).

It seemed the Nazis didn’t care for jazz, or jungle music, as they called it. Which meant in Berlin, at the start of the Second World War, playing it was banned.

This play with songs - not a musical - is based on real stories around at the time. Of how a rather “hep” Herr Schwedler (Jonny Bower), a young officer at the Ministry of Information, suggests that none other than Lord Haw Haw (Callum Coates) could add a few anti-semitic verses to the catchy syncopated rhythms so that more people across the world would tune in to the sinister Germany Calling message.

Intriguing. And apparently true.

The action all takes place in a recording studio where American CBS journalist Bill Constant (Richard Conlon) reports that ten months into the war not a bomb has been dropped on Berlin.

“Nobody has paid the price yet - but everyone knows the bill is coming,” observes Bill, as the studio is taken over to lambast Winston Churchill for allowing England its “holiday of delusion” ahead of imminent attack by the master race’s fist of steel,.

Fascinating. There’s even some off-colour stand-up comedy and cross-dressing from club owner Otto (Chris Andrew Mellon) which is intentionally uncomfortable.

Only the music really sparks us into life with the Tiger Rag, Minnie the Moocher, Making Whoopee and even the anonymous Adult Hitler’s Faourite Flower! .

Once again, all the ingredients are there, but for me Belgrade director Hamish Glen just hasn’t got the composition quite right.

Barbara Goulden