THEATRE – Wartime pilots who had to battle sexism as well as the Nazis

IT CATAPULTS the audience back to the Second World War, putting them in Russia with famous female flier Lily Litvak.

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Ina (Alison O'Donnell), left, Alexei (Robert Jack) and Lily (Lesley Harcourt) tell the story in the Firebrand production of White Rose
Ina (Alison O'Donnell), left, Alexei (Robert Jack) and Lily (Lesley Harcourt) tell the story in the Firebrand production of White Rose

Telling her story, it unravels deeper issues of patriotism, sexism, war and love, and actress Lesley Harcourt, who plays the lead in White Rose, says it will get audiences talking.

"It is a very strange style of theatre," she explains.

"You report the action and you tell the stories and then you show the story and then you comment on it and ask the audience to think.

"It is asking a lot of the audience, in terms of making them think.

"The issues are just as relevant today, in terms of war and love."

Firebrand theatre company's production, which will appear at the Tron Theatre this week, tells of three individuals during the Second World War.

It is told from the point of view of Russian fighter ace Lily – the so-called 'White Rose of Stalingrad' – who was one of 1000 talented women pilots who volunteered for the Red Air Force during the war.

Lily and her mechanic Ina are two women in a male-dominated world.

Lesley said: "She is incredibly admirable in terms of her skills and the fact that she was by all accounts a wonderful pilot and naturally incredibly talented.

"She is focused but she is also limited – she is there because she knows she is great at flying and that is what she wants to do.

"It is very hard to get into character.

"You start as an actress with things that are similar to you, so obviously I have a self belief in myself that acting is what I want to do and you have to start from that place.

"Then you look at the things that are different to you both. She is a tricky character to get your head around but there is a lot of these issues that are going on today."

Lily and Ina come up against sexist jeering and misogynist behaviour, but Lesley insists this never holds Lily back.

She said: "She is just so single-minded and so driven and she has got so much self-belief.

"So even if the men are jeery, she is completely driven. She doesn't see any of that."

An impressive 30 Citations of Hero of the Soviet Union went to women pilots, and three regiments of the Air Force were made up entirely of women.

For Glasgow-born Lesley, this is the first time for many years that she has played in the city, and it is her debut at the Tron.

She left the city aged eight and was raised in Harrogate, in Yorkshire, before going to university in Edinburgh.

Well known for her role as Gemma Kerr and in cop series Taggart, Lesley has made several television appearances including in Casualty before most recently playing Princess Diana in William and Catherine – A Royal Romance.

White Rose by Peter Arnott, which follows Firebrand's sell-out tour of Iron, offers an insight into modern warfare and concepts of patriotism that Lesley claims are as relevant today as they were then.

She said: "You can definitely engage with it. It is such a moving piece. We are in this perma-war at the moment, and these issues are relevant.

"This was written in 1985 so I think there are a lot of parallels drawn too – the Falklands War had just happened

"It is such a moving story of how three individual people deal with war in a completely different way and just survive – it is almost a story of survival and how people actually deal with the every-day life of being in that situation.

"It is a really beautiful piece, it is not just about the war it is about people and relationships and men and women."

Lesley adds: "People will come away feeling different things and seeing things from different angles.

"It's one of those ones that really strikes a chord."

l White Rose is at the Tron Theatre until Saturday at 7.45pm. Tickets until Thursday are £12/£7; Friday and Saturday, £15/£12. For details, call 0141 552 4267 or visit www.tron.co.uk

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