PREVIEW: Lie Back and Think of America—in wartime Bethnal Green

PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 August 2014

Natalie Wilcox in 'Lie Back and Think of America'

Natalie Wilcox in 'Lie Back and Think of America'

Front Room Theatre

Natalie Wilcox is taking on all six roles in the play she has written about life in London’s East End at the height of the Second World War.

It is set in Bethnal Green in 1943, the scene that year of Britain’s worst-ever wartime civilian disaster when 173 men, women and children were crushed to death in a false air-raid alert.

But her ‘Lie Back and Think of America’ is not about the air-raid shelter stairway tragedy, although one of its characters is directly affected.

It is the story of the Smith family. Young Sarah wants dad to meet an American GI, who is black—she battles to find the courage to tell the truth about her GI boyfriend.

Natalie’s first full-length play is part-inspired by Noel Izon’s documentary Choc’late Soldiers from the USA, about Black American soldiers and British civilians crossing a racial divide to forge an unexpected bond, which introduced jazz and jitterbug to the Brits.

Natalie’s wartime comedy-drama at Whitechapel’s Brady Arts Centre on September 11 and 12 is raising funds for the uncompleted memorial to the victims of the Bethnal Green disaster.

“One of the characters is affected by the tragedy,” Natalie reveals. “So it seemed appropriate to help the trust raise the last £65,000 to complete the memorial.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help—to have positive influence on the world.”

The play comes to the East End on a somewhat shoestring budget, after a run at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012.

Front Room Theatre Company is herself on stage, with director Naomi Jones—the only paid member—movement director Annabelle Green who she met at the Actors’ Guild and her husband Jim Penn, 43, a TV researcher by day who chips in as stage manager.

It is all funded by her mum, Phyllis, 60, with profits going to Bethnal Green’s Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust.

Natalie was barely out of the pram when she landed on the stage.

“My gran took me tap-dancing when I was three and I had a knack for it,” the 30-something recalls. “That’s how I ended up on stage.”

The name Front Room Theatre was inspired by grandmother Violet’s front-room, although it was actually at the back of the house.

“She was funny and very outspoken,” Natalie remembers. “When horse-carts passed by the window, she would rush out and scoop up manure for the garden.”

Natalie’s previous roles include Bertha Rochester, the mad wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Ayre, at the Trafalgar Studios, and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare for Kidz’ 1999 UK tour.

She is also talented with her sewing, making her own 1940s floral pink, yellow and red dress for the play. The knitted cardigan belongs to her mum.

‘Lie Back and Think of America’ at Brady Arts centre, 192-96 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel, September 11 and 12 at 7.30pm, tickets £8 (concessions £6.50) on 020-7207 0296, or online box office

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