By Sears Eldredge
In late March, Wilkinson got involved with theatre again in a production of John Galsworthy’s one-act play, Loyalties. By early April, he reports that the POWs in Changi began to experience further food deprivations and that malaria was rampant in the camp—a result of the worsening ration situation.
Rice rations have been reduced! I am permanently hungry! . . . Malaria is extremely troublesome here. In No. 1 Area, Officers and men go down with it time and time again. We are still rehearsing “Loyalties” but Malaria is hitting us hard and there is always at least two of the cast in hospital all the time. We have recast it three times owing to illness and it will be a miracle if it ever goes on as we have used up all our original understudies. Bill Auld is producing. . .. We’ll never be fit as so long as we are P.O.W. as this food is only just enough to keep us alive. One cannot really risk any sort of illness as there is no means of building up again. It’s still a case I’m afraid, of the survival of the fittest or the luckiest! It makes one quite anxious at times as things get gradually worse and here we are now beginning our third year![i]
Playbill for April ’44. All At Sea, at the A.I.F. Theatre, would play through April. On The Spot, a “Super, Do[o]per, Thriller” at the Phoenix Theatre was produced by Vere Bartrum, while the revue, Swingtime, produced by Forbes Finlayson, opened at the Little Theatre. Loyalties, it appears, never did go on.
Swingtime by Mick Walker and Freddy Binns, was billed as a “‘moosical extravaganza (with apologies to the Great American Public).” Directed by Hugh Elliot, with the orchestra conducted by the American, J. J. Porter. Its huge cast of 22 characters was played by 18 actors with some doubling. All four acts took place in the USA and moved from “Placidville, DG,” (Act One) to “Studio of the ‘Miracle Sooper-Kolossal Films, Inc.’ NYC. USA.” (Act Four). But why this sudden salute to the U.S.A., unless their “dickey-bird” (secret radio) was telling them that the tide of the war in the Pacific had turned and the Americans were now taking the upper hand, and this was the subtext their audiences were intended to understand?
[i] Wilkinson, Diary. 3 April ’44.
Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105
Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22