Review: Tom, Dick and Harry, Alexandra Palace Theatre ★★★★☆

by Chris Dobson

The escape of 76 prisoners from Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp in Nazi Germany in March 1944 was most famously the subject of the 1963 film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen. Writers Theresa Heskins, Michael Hugo and Andrew Pollard have drawn on archival research to turn this extraordinary moment of history into a play, directed by Heskins. The title, Tom, Dick and Harry, refers to the three tunnels which the prisoners secretly dig in order to eventually secure their escape.

Sam Craig and Nicholas Richardson in Tom, Dick and Harry. Photo: Andrew Billington

It is played in the round in the beautiful environs of Alexandra Palace. A cast of nine – including Hugo and Pollard themselves – cover multiple characters, and members of the audience are drawn upon to represent various figures, too. It is an energetic and frequently hilarious evening’s entertainment, with an exceptional set design by Laura Willstead. Lighting designer Daniella Beattie vividly brings to life the Stalag Luft III camp, with projections onto the stage standing in for air raids.

The acting itself is somewhat traditional, with an all-male cast led by Dominic Thorburn, who plays group leader Ballard as a refined English gent. As Landry, Nicholas Richardson is the play’s heartthrob, and audience members can look forward to at least one topless moment. There are a few problematic jokes about the Irish and the production is oddly sympathetic in its representation of the Nazi officers, even Giesler (David Fairs), the play’s chief villain, who is pantomine-esque in his bombastic wickedness.

Tom, Dick and Harry at Alexandra Palace. Photo: Andrew Billington

The play rightly shines a light on the contributions of prisoners-of-war from across the world, including Czechoslovakian Janáček (Andrius Gaučas), Jamaican CJ (Sam Craig) and Australian Lucky Jimmy (Eddy Westbury). Perry Moore is amusing as Fritz, a hapless prison guard, but some of the production’s comedy struggles to gel with the play’s more serious themes, especially in the second half. Tom, Dick and Harry is hyperaware of its theatricality, with the actors occasionally breaking the fourth wall to comment on the play or interact with the audience. Because so much goes on over the course of its approximately two hours’ running time, the action is sometimes slightly hard to follow, for instance when the prisoners perform a raucous calypso dance for the officers.

Nonetheless, this production is so accomplished, theatregoers are unlikely to mind that not everything fits together neatly – after all, by attempting to cover a story spanning so many characters, the play exemplifies the ambition and daring that makes live theatre so creative and exciting.

Tom, Dick and Harry is at Alexandra Palace Theatre until 28 August

Chris Dobson is a freelance journalist from the North of England. He now lives in North London and is passionate about theatre, film and literature.