A unique setting, high production values, solid performances by seasoned actors – ‘Gabriel’ has it all.
Set in 1943 on Nazi occupied Guernsey, this touring drama deals in familiar wartime issues against a backdrop far removed from the frontline.
The play spins a tale of survival, following a family who have been ousted from their home by the invading German army and forced to take up residence in a vacant farmhouse.
The entire production takes place in this diminutive location but it’s a melting pot of drama, conflict and emotion, driven by nuanced performances from Belinda Lang as the resourceful widow Jeanne Becquet and veteran Liverpudlian actor Paul McGann.
Lang’s matriarch must consider her every move very carefully when McGann’s Nazi general takes a shine to her, as rebuffing his slimy affections could have dire consequences for her family.
Both of our leads have hidden depth which writer Moira Buffini plumbs as the story unfolds and there are more than a few surprises along the way as their layers are stripped away.
McGann’s Von Pfunz lures the audience into a false sense of security, initially tricking us into thinking Jeanne has the upper hand, but it soon transpires that he is more shrewd and perceptive than our first impressions indicated.
The former ‘Doctor Who’ star effortlessly transitions from Bavarian buffoon to calculating Nazi with surprisingly human undertones, and he plays the part with gravitas.
The Gabriel of the play is a young man played by Robin Morrissey who washes up on the shores of Guernsey with no memory of who he is or where he comes from. To some members of the family he represents hope and potential salvation, and his arrival causes tensions to boil over.
All of this is offset against effective black humour, moral dilemmas and an engaging narrative, enhanced by a brooding original score and claustrophobic set which captures the sense of isolation many of the islanders felt during Guernsey’s occupation.
‘Gabriel’ isn’t your typical Second World War-era drama, but it tackles all of the dilemmas humanity faced during this dark period head on while telling a gripping story of survival.
McGann and Lang shine throughout and their uneasy exchanges keep the audience on tenterhooks for the entirety of the production’s two-hour run time.
‘Gabriel’ runs at Playhouse Liverpool between 4 and 8 April.
Photography by Robin Savage