Bethnal Green
Lucky Dog Theatre Productions



distressing content

50 mins

Bridge Chambers

Thu at 20:30

Fri at 20:00

Sat at 20:15

Sun at 13:00

Bethnal Green
Lucky Dog Theatre Productions

The harrowing true story of the worst civilian disaster of World War Two when 173 men, women and children died trying to enter a public air raid shelter in East London.

  • ★★★★★ - FringeReview
  • ★★★★★ - LoveFringe
  • ★★★★★ - Broadway Baby
  • ★★★★★ - RemoteGoat
  •    ★★★★ - FringeGuru


BETHNAL GREEN (Ludlow Fringe Review, June 2017)

On the evening of the 3 March 1943 173 people were killed in a crush descending the steps hurrying into the London Underground station entrance at Bethnal Green in the East End of London. The East End of course had suffered the worst bombing of the blitz so the locals weren’t hanging around; the air raid siren had sounded and so people were taking shelter. A woman tripped up and in the ensuing crush 300 people got tangled up and many of the casualties died of suffocation.

The extraordinary aspect of this appalling tragedy was that, (despite it ultimately being the biggest civilian loss of life in the UK in the Second World War), the story was immediately hushed up and people were instantly sworn to secrecy as “careless talk costs lives” and the Government were keen to suppress any potential panic and preserve morale. The trauma of the events of that day festered within the Bethnal Green community for generations.

Lucky Dog do that simple (but brilliantly effective) technique of simply letting the facts speak for themselves within a dramatisation. This multi-tongued character-talented duo recite the testimonies of all those involved; the injured, the rescuers, the survivors, delivering each of the stories in turn with a straightforwardness and blandness which only accentuates the tragedy of each individual story. There’s a sense of Mass Observation archive material about the show which heightens its poignancy. These stories are the Real Thing, no embellishment is needed to picture the full horror and the full tragedy of what these people have seen and have to report.

Unfortunately recent events for us now in the 21st Century have echoes from the past in this wartime cover-up: the authorities then as now not wanting to spend money, safety measures deemed “unnecessary” and “a disaster waiting to happen” being a view expressed, then as now.

'Bethnal Green' is a timely, honourable, brilliant show using the source material with huge respect and presenting it using the simplest of methods; flashes and flashbacks, dark testimonies delivered in darkness, white noise testimony sounds obliterating truths. It’s a tour de force by both actors and a wonderfully moving and thought-provoking evening. ★★★★★

BETHNAL GREEN (Jayne Marling, Buxton Fringe Review, 16th July 2017)

This production tells the story of the Bethnal Green deep shelter tragedy which happened on 3rd of March 1943. It was the worst civilian disaster of WW2 and the country as a whole knew nothing about it at the time.

The way the audience was brought into the room was an excellent device to set the mood and atmosphere. From the moment we entered through the door we got a sense of what it was like in those shelters.

The story is told mainly through survivor testimony. Tony Carpenter and Philip Hutchinson play the ARP wardens and every other character in the play. Through a change of hat or addition of a scarf the characters tell their personal stories of what happened on that dreadful night. By the time Tony Carpenter was telling the nurse’s story all that really mattered was hearing what the next person had to say. It was heart-breaking stuff.

I think that a modern audience will naturally draw parallels to the Hillsborough disaster and the injuries inflicted there. The testimonies of the Bethnal Green survivors are chillingly similar to those statements given in court by the survivors of the football tragedy when talking about how those around them died.

This is an interesting and powerful story that offers a chilling insight into the events of 3rd March 1943, and of how a Government acted in a time of crisis for the good of the nation as a whole.

BETHNAL GREEN (Sue Bradley, FringeReview, 27th May 2017)

A strange, unpleasant smell filled the air as we queued up for the show, with everyone pulling faces and trying to ascertain who, or what, was the culprit. We were then led into a blacked-out theatre by two unusually polite—by today’s standards—air raid wardens (Tony Carpenter and Philip Hutchinson), shining their torches and guiding us to our seats like a couple of militarised ushers, which help set the feel for the piece set in worn-torn London.

The smell, they revealed, came from the combination of camphor and chemical toilets that permanently permeated London’s shelters during World War II. Fortunately the offending odour was switched off after the explanation, but it was a very effective means of entering this subterranean lifestyle.

Carpenter and Hutchinson play numerous characters, from old ladies and little boys to government officials and nurses, through a series of costume changes as they relay real eyewitness accounts, building up different perspectives of the same incident, when 173 people were killed in a crush on the steps of Bethnal Green tube station during an air raid.

The performance is relentlessly grim, with descriptions of clumps of buttons, hair and bodies found on the stairs and the revelation that despite 15 funerals a day it took over a week and a half to bury all the victims. A recreation of those victims’ screams is played on a backing track, creating a harrowing and distressing mood.

There are obvious parallels to be drawn here with the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, with the initial blame being placed on the victims and the government and Winston Churchill-led cover up—it was deemed a civilian matter and poor for the nation’s morale, so hospital staff were told to shut up about it.

This is an important story that needs to be told.