“Confessions of Honour” The Station PH, Sutton Coldfield

The upstairs function room at The Station has recently been refurbished with the stage extended, a lighting rig installed, and the sound system upgraded. As a consequence the calibre of production possible at the venue has improved and is able to attract plays and actors such as was on offer on the opening night of The Opus Theatre Company’s “Confessions of Honour”. Although it has played in London’s West End at the Jermyn Street Theatre, it is highly appropriate that it should also appear locally, as the setting is nearby Whittington Barracks, home to the Staffordshire Regiment.

The Stafford’s themselves have a rich history including the distinction of having served abroad for the longest ever tour – 57 years in Antigua! A distinction which probably merits a story all of its own, but that is not where this tale finds its drama. Instead it is in the story of Frederick Salisbury, who is waiting to hand over the Victoria Cross he won in the Second World War to his old regiment. There is to be a ceremony, a march past, and a glittering dinner in the mess. One of the guests though, is an old German soldier who seems to know rather more about the VC, and Fred , than he expected and has a secret Fred would rather not hear.

It is written and directed by Rugeley actor and playwright Gerry Hinks (Rev Graham Broadbent in Coronation Street), who also stars as Wolfgang Meissler , the mysterious guest in this three hander. The plot, on a single set, skilfully unfolds in intriguing, and hugely enjoyable, style. Salisbury is played by Keith Minshull, whilst Alison Joynes plays the part of Sgt Major Karen Baker who is hosting her distinguished retired Regimental colleague.

The opening is a fond trip down memory lane for an old soldier with the differences between Army life now, and then, affectionately lampooned. As the official proceedings draw nearer the script shifts a gear as courage and decoration are explored, before Wolfgang Meissler appears, a man with a secret. The suspense of that secret is worked till it is wrung dry, before the story shifts into top gear for the conclusion.

Well cast, the characterisation is a delight. Salisbury is the reflective reluctant hero, but proud with it. Baker the kindly window on a modern Army, yet as steeped in tradition and service as her guest of honour. Meissler is mysterious and Teutonic, a stereotype – but with a twist.

Hinks’s writing neatly captures and combines the mood of old soldier’s reminiscences, with accurate historical references such as the origins of how the Victoria Cross itself is cast. Thoughtful, wry, amusing and often poignant, yet never overly sentimental, “Confessions of Honour” is a little gem which plays for a second night at the Station PH on 20th October, 7.45pm, tickets available on the door.

Gary Longden 19/10/11

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