Theatre: The St. Valery Beaches, Oran Mor, Glasgow, Four Stars

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Theatre

The St. Valery beaches

Oran Mor, Glasgow City

NEIL COOPER

Four Sterne Stars

It is not a new practice for prime ministers to say lies in public to save their own face. When Winston Churchill declared the so-called “Miracle of Dunkirk,” in which 350,000 British troops were led to security, he was not quite telling the whole story, as this revival of Stuart Hepburn’s World War II play, first seen in 2017 at Oran Mor’s A Play, a Pie and a Pint lunchtime theater initiative, makes clear. In fact, he had brokered an arrangement that left the 51st Highland Division men as collateral damage hanging on the front lines, where 9,000 of them were forced to surrender after being ordered to fight to the last cartridge.

Via the eyes of young Callum, who joins the regiment for fun with his buddies and sees the possibility of battle as a distant abstraction, Hepburn shows this gross injustice. When a young woman named Catriona throws him a lifeline after the deception of Churchill in France, the adventure he embarks on is both a life-changing romance and a wake-up call concerning the dishonesty of the wealthy.

As Callum tells his tale through a series of letters to his younger brother while his older self watches over him, Hepburn frames his own development. The outcome is a moving and poignant examination of how it is possible to turn young lives upside down and use them as cannon fodder. In the case of Callum, he seeks salvation after enduring some heavy losses, at least.

The screenplay by Hepburn weaves all this together with an intelligence and lightness that remains sentimental on the right side, and features a trio of wonderful actors. James Rottger offers a wide-eyed young Callum whose wisdom the bubbly and witty Catriona of Ashley Smith puts out. To highlight the all-too-real human cost of a piece of history, Ron Donachie brings an avuncular gravitas shamefully obscured by those who helped build it.

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