STAGE ANTICS: Nicholas Ellenbogen, Daniel Richards and Sne Dladla (spying through the door) in Raiders: The Great War.
STAGE ANTICS: Nicholas Ellenbogen, Daniel Richards and Sne Dladla (spying through the door) in Raiders: The Great War.

Raiders: The Great War

DIRECTOR: Nicholas Ellenbogen

CAST: Nicholas Ellenbogen, Daniel Richards, Sne Dladla

VENUE: Rosebank Theatre

UNTIL: September 6

RATING: ****

AN UNHOLY alliance between three talented thespians and some sporting members of their audience results in the entertaining whimsy that gives Raiders productions their distinctive character.

This latest show in the series marks the centenary of World War I with a wildly improbable sequence of events, starting with the delivery of a Fabergé egg to the embattled Romanovs in 1916, and ending with the blooming of poppies in Delville Wood.

It is not so much the aleatory and inventive plot that delights spectators, as the outrageous ingenuity with which simple props are used to evoke great and dramatic happenings – in other words, this epitomises the Ellenbogen style.

The trio of actors complement one another to excellent effect: Ellenbogen himself and Daniel Richards inhabit identifiable personae throughout the show, the former a member of the Fabergé family, the latter a White Russian who becomes a willing accom-plice in the attempt to perpetuate the Romanov dynasty. Both are plausible in implausible roles, and the third cast member, Sne Dladla, steals the show in a range of parts that have him impersonating, among other things, a snowstorm, a horse named Egbert, a spectacularly stupid sentry, and the bloodthirsty villain of the piece, ominously named Julius.

Sean Whitehead’s crafty lighting creates the illusion of such action-film clichés as escaping danger in a hot air balloon, evading the malevolence of one’s enemy in a dodgy cable car, and that perennial nerve-tweaker, the battle of wills between pursuer and quarry on the roof of an express train in the middle of the night. For good measure there is even a ride aboard a paddle boat – not bad for a space the size of this theatre’s petite stage, and all conveyed with tongue-in-cheek panache.

Particularly effective is the ear-shattering detonation of squibs to suggest the violence of battle in a war zone, while a simple sparkler evokes starlight in a quieter moment.

No Raiders would be complete without the considerable groan factor of predictable or familiar puns, and this one is no exception; it all adds to the innocent fun.

Less characteristic is the poignancy of the finalé, but this is appropriate given the carnage that made the war a major tragedy of the 20th century: red confetti scattered over a model of Delville Wood evokes both bloodshed and the flowering of poppies to soften the atrocity committed there.

This quieter-than-usual ending does not negate or diminish the energy and zest with which Raiders: The Great War is enacted.