Beyond three women and World War 1, going in to The Home Front there is no way you can know what is about to take place. That’s because—in perhaps the most original idea I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe—the entire thing is improvised. The director calls for your attention; she asks you to provide the name for one of the women. And there before you, she comes to life. It is really beautiful to see the characters become themselves.
Its premise is certainly one-of-a-kind, but, unfortunately, its realisation leaves a lot to be desired. In a technically-absent show, the power of the performance is made up entirely of these three characters. The improvised nature results in uneven performances, historical inaccuracies and lots of silence. This is, of course, to be expected. Improv is a gamble. But it also works if the actors present work as a unit, and the three actors—Catherine Crowley, Ruth Pieloor and Lynn Peterson—regrettably do not support each other as well as they should.
Of the three women, Peterson is the best, pulling herself eagerly into her role with a sense of old warm charm. Crowley and Pieloor are technically good, but left on their own, or playing scenes opposite one another, they do tend to dissolve into silence. More often than not, Crowley, with the lion’s share of scenes, is left sputtering at questions posed by her fellow actors, and no attempts are made to pull the scene out of these mires.
Put simply, there is seemingly no narrative point to the proceedings. The scenes seem to merely exist to evoke a time and place, a flavour of the past. There is no drive or reason to care about what is happening. You simply have to go with the flow, and hope that things reach a satisfying conclusion (and, being improv, there is no guarantee of that).
This is an era of history that deserves to be dramatised. The stories of women at the front of the home war effort is, after all, so rarely explored. But, based on this performance, improvisation is not the place to do it in.