Chamberlain: Peace in Our Time

Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209)
• 15:00
• Till Aug 19
• 55 minutes

peaceinourtime

Neville Chamberlain worried about how history would judge him

The 3rd of September, 1939 fell on a Sunday. Two days earlier Germany had invaded Poland and Britain and France sent an ultimatum that unless the German forces ceased operations by 11am on the 3rd of September a state of war would exist between the countries. Church attendance that Sunday morning was far higher than usual as people anxiously waited for the news. The UK Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was scheduled to broadcast to the nation from 10 Downing Street at 11.15am.

The action of the play takes place during the preceeding hour and consists of a conversation between the Prime Minister and his Private Secretary addressed as “Jack” (presumably Sir Jock Colville).

Chamberlain was portrayed sympathetically as a man who had striven for peace above all else who felt betrayed by Hitler after the breaking of the promises given at the Munich Conference of September 1938. Chamberlain had returned to London believing that he had secured “Peace in our time”. He showed a great concern for his posthumous reputation but was pessimistic and feared that Winston Churchill, who in the play was waiting just off stage throughout, would succeed him as Prime Minister and be remembered more fondly. He felt that he was the right man at the wrong time and that he would be blamed for failing to stop the war.

History did indeed judge Chamberlain harshly, at least in the short term, exactly as he had feared. 78 years later, although his critics persist, he has acquired some vigorous defenders. Public opinion was on his side in 1938 and had he gone to war then he would have been vilified as a warmonger. To that extent his worse fears were not realised. The play did not discuss the wisdom of Chamberlain’s unconditional guarantee to Poland. This gave Britain no choice but to go to war when Germany invaded Poland.

In an otherwise excellent production one might question the credibility of the relationship between Chamberlain and Colville. Colville’s attitude to his boss varied between very respectful and occasionally addressing him as Neville – even on one occasion taking intemperate issue with his judgment. The choice of music was inappropriate to the production in that it consisted, almost entirely, of songs made during the subsequent War rather than using music from the actual period in which the production was set. The singing of the ‘Lancashire Caruso’ (from his accent closer to Bolton than Blackburn) did, however, do the songs full justice.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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