Following its debut in Malta, musical production Star of Strait Street, which recounts the true and bittersweet wartime romance between Christina Ratcliffe and Adrian Warburton, is coming to the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes. Writer Philip Glassborow, along with actresses Polly March and Larissa Bonaci, discuss the show.
What are the origins of Star of Strait Street, and how did the concept develop?
Philip Glassborow: I’m a writer based in Britain, and I visited Malta for the first time just a few years ago when Polly March directed my musical ‘The Great Big Radio Show’ at the Manoel Theatre. I fell head-over-heels in love with the capital city Valletta, as well as the gifted actors and singers one can find here. Then I heard about a real-life love story set against the background of World War II. And it sounded like a wonderful subject for a musical play – because Christina Ratcliffe was an entertainer working at the Morning Star, just off Strait Street, and so we could bring in some of the wonderful swing music of the 1940s which she would have performed.
The story clearly has a rich historical background – what would you say are some of the most striking details to emerge from this tale, and what does it reveal about Malta at that time?
Polly March: The quite extraordinary resilience and courage of the Maltese during the Second World War. Under heavy, continual bombardment, the men and women of the Royal Malta Artillery, The Police, The Civil Defence, those at the dockyards or at the airfields, all worked ceaselessly to keep the island free from occupation. They had no food, no fuel, no ammunition – and yet they fought on.
Beyond the historical context, what is the emotional core of the story?
March: This little musical has, at its heart, a love song. Christina met Adrian when he was stationed here in Malta; she was working as an entertainer at the Morning Star. Once the war started and the dance hall closed, she created The Whizz Bangs Concert Party, and they toured anywhere and everywhere. And while doing that, she was also working as a ‘plotter’ at Lascaris War Rooms.
Adrian was a pilot and away a lot; that they were in love was plain to all. She had to continue here, doing the concert party gigs and working at Lascaris, whilst he was flying missions. And sometimes, of course, she was on duty, when he was flying. The tension must have been unbearable during those moments.
What you see in the play is Larissa Bonaci as Christina in the 1940s, and I play her in the 1970s. The older Christina remembers the high points of her life, and conjures up her younger self. That Christina takes us through the good times and the bad, the joys, the tears and fears. I get to play ten other roles as well, which may well be a record!
When Adrian disappeared, in very mysterious circumstances, Christina always held on to the belief that he would never have left her, that he would be coming back for her, sometime. He was the most decorated pilot in the RAF, with six awards for gallantry. He was crazy and brave, the ultimate dare-devil hero – if anyone could come for her, he would. And so she waited. And waited. Until her death in 1988…
Star of Strait Street will perform at the OSO Arts Centre on Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th November at 8pm. Tickets are £14 for adults, £12 for concessions, and £15 on the door, and can be booked here.