Three Night Blitz, Grand Theatre, Swansea

February 25, 2016 by

“How old were you when the war began then?”

“I was 12 when it started. We were down Sandfields.”

“It all went up down there, didn’t it?

“Yes. I could never live through another war. We’ll all get blown up next time anyway, won’t we?”

The play hadn’t even started yet and I was enthralled by the conversations going on around me. It was a packed Grand Theatre, with all ages, for the Saturday matinee of Three Night Blitz, a specially commissioned piece written by Manon Eames to commemorate 75 years since Swansea suffered devastating bombing on 19, 20 and 21 February 1941.

The curtain goes up and a woman stands alone. The absence of scenery and other actors sets our imaginations alight, in spite of some sound issues, as she chats to a couple of girls and looks down from the hill over the city, which holds many memories for her. Modern day Swansea then gives way to World War II.

Elsie and Peggy work in Ben Evans department store, ‘the Harrods of Wales’. A soldier comes in and takes a shine to prim-and-proper Peggy who reluctantly agrees to go to a dance with him. Elsie is looking forward to her forthcoming marriage to Tommy, who is stationed elsewhere.




Then we’re introduced to Hilda, a little girl coming from her piano lesson, then two young lads and their dog going out to play, and Maurice on his way home from his job in the bank. Ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. But the realities of wartime are soon brought home.

Elsie gets home to find that her father has a letter for her. Everyone expects the worst. But it’s a message from Tommy telling her that all leave has been cancelled and that she should cancel the wedding. The relief both on stage and off is palpable. For me, the engagement of the audience throughout was one of the most successful and enjoyable aspects of the performance; along with the comical moments to lighten the mood, especially from Caroline Berry as Elsie’s grandma.

Peggy and her beau David are enjoying themselves at the dance, the elderly lady behind me is singing along with the music, and then the siren goes, lights flash, bombs explode and everything changes.

Alone on the stage, the air raid warden tells us that a little girl was found in rubble clutching a sheet of music and holding on to her dead mother’s hand. Maurice the bank clerk has been recovering bodies and his wife can’t find the right moment to tell him she is pregnant. The curtain comes down.

“Makes you think, don’t it?”

“The youngsters today, if they want it, they have it. And why not?”

The elderly ladies next to me continue to reflect on life.

The second half starts with the second night of bombing. Lists of the losses are read out including the ten members of the Price family, the youngest aged nine months, who all perished. Streets were devastated.  On the third night it’s the town centre that is attacked.

My own grandmother, Mary Ellen, was manageress of former bar No.10 (now Holland & Barrett), and decided to remain in her top-floor room rather than face the horror of being buried if she hid in the cellar. She and the building were unscathed – and then she walked the seven miles home to Skewen.



The aftermath of the bombings is heart-breaking.  A teacher calls out the class register and most pupils are absent. David the soldier has been killed defusing a bomb. People are searching the morgues for loved ones, including Tommy who is looking for Elsie. They eventually find each other and get married straight away, realising that you have to live for the day and not wait for what you perceive to be the right moment.

We discover that the modern-day female character who opened the play is the daughter of Hilda, the little girl who was learning piano. In a moving monologue, the woman, played by Caroline Berry, talks about how the city has changed and how we are quick to forget the horrors of war. The ladies around me are sniffing and dabbing their eyes.

As far as I’m concerned this play was a great success. It was engaging, informative, thought-provoking and comically entertaining at the right moments. It was relevant to the audience; a real community experience. More please.



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