‘Cis and Barbiche’

‘Cis and Barbiche’ was adapted from the book ‘The Bright Squadrons’ that was co-written by the play’s central character. This wonderful adaptation by WA author and loved personality, Jenny Davis, has just finished an incredible UK run, with many standing ovations. Many will remember Jenny’s other war play, the moving ‘Dear Heart’. Despite having seen dozens of plays since this production, it remains clearly in my mind.

Jenny’s plays are filled with emotion and rich, well-researched memories. I saw this play on Remembrance Day, 96 years after the end of World War 1. Combined with the ever so moving ceremonies in Albany last week, this is a play, which is still extremely relevant today. It is also important to teenagers, who should be fully aware of the happenings in the time of their grandparents.

Presented by Perth Theatre Trust and Agelink Theatre Inc. this most poignant love story is playing at The Studio Theatre, Subiaco Arts Centre in Hamersley Road, Subiaco. The remaining show dates for this two-hour ten minute production are Thursday at 2.00 pm, Friday at 7.30 pm and Saturday 15th November at both 2.00 pm and 7.30 pm.

This season could be a sell-out, so booking is advised.

On arrival, you navigate past the stack of protective sandbags, before being handed a ration book (programme) and a poppy by the army corporal at the door.

 The set is fairly basic, with a couple of tea crates on one side of the stage that acts as Cis’ home or service headquarters. On the other side is a table and chair, Barbara’s bedroom study area.

A large screen at the back of the stage shows dozens of delightful photos of the actual couple, their friends and Liverpool during the blitz; brought vividly to life with some clever sound and lighting effects (Aaron Stirk).

       In her late teens, Barbara (Siobhan Dow-Hall) is a ‘nut-brown maiden’ living with her strict mother, Mrs Rigby (Alinta Carroll) in an upper-class suburb of Liverpool. The loves of her life are Rufus, her Scots terrier and Sabu (named after the cinema’s elephant boy) her cat. One day a twenty-two year old trainee airman from Marseilles, Francis – ‘Cis’ (Mark Desebrock) sails into the Liverpool docks. He has arrived in England to be trained as a fighter pilot.

       Cis is boarded out at the Rigby’s home, and is immediately attracted to the innocent and shy student, calling her Barbiche (French for goatee beard). After a few weeks, he is sent to Lossiemouth in the north east of Scotland, experiencing the freezing cold weather for the first time in his life.

       The affectionate billets-doux soon arrive at Barbara’s street (the ‘rhuBarb’?) – Similar puns come thick and fast from this young man (an ‘omelette’?) in the letters that are to follow. Then, one day Barbiche is told that he is about to leave on a bombing sortie to Essen.

In this day and age, very few teenagers will have ever handwritten even a simple letter on paper. A modern love letter now being an SMS, consisting of a smiley face with a kiss. It was so refreshing to hear the beautiful structure of these letters, and the amazing emotion that used to be created with the correct use of words. This couple were filled with innocent, sex-free love – true ‘agape’. Real-life Barbara is so lucky to have these letters to treasure; now Facebook is so fleeting and the youngsters of today will have nothing to look back on in their old age.

The melodious, crystal-voiced Alinta Carroll sang the wartime songs from France, Scotland England and Germany beautifully, all with the appropriate accents. Accordionist, Nikki D’Agostino, who accompanied her, is a WAAPA trained musician recently returned from the wars herself – with an ankle broken in Italy. Dressed in black, Nikki had a black beret with French plumes adorning it. The costumes were top notch, Cis’ uniform was that of genuine French airmen, and then of course, there were the stockings with the seams up the back.

Alinta played several cameos, and some hilarious caricatures. The main actors were Mark Desebrock, who despite an immaculate, faultless French accent is an Englishman. Equity Award winner, Siobhan Dow-Hall portrayed Barbara magnificently; she captured the couple’s nervous, first meeting and then subtly carried the love affair development through. The tender chemistry between the couple was outstanding, and when the time came for Cis to part, director Jenny slipped in her version of the famous scene from ‘A Brief Encounter’ – a truly romantic touch – and a caring hush fell across the audience.

Director Jenny Davis has done a breath-taking job of the adaptation and direction, with the music, photos and remarkable acting, the audience were transported to an era of austerity, and of people who genuinely cared about each other’s wellbeing.

Take the tissues along – for laughs as well as tears – and see this very special and touching love story.