Theatres Of War

Written by RJJ Hall
Review by Jo Barton

Wartime Naples in 1943 is the setting for this romantic story which takes as its theme the twin loyalties of love and honour. Cleverly using the juxtaposition of theatres of war, and set against the background of an operatic theatre, the story focuses on the disparate lives of three main protagonists. Major Edmund Manley and Lieutenant Frank Hill of the British army are very different officers, however, their shared experiences of war only serves to emphasise the difference in their social backgrounds. Lieutenant Vermillion Henthorpe is Edmund’s lively fiancé, who leaves the relative safety of Cairo, ostensibly to strengthen her relationship with Edmund, however, she is irresistibly drawn towards Frank’s project to restore the damaged Teatro di San Carlo, one of the oldest and most beautiful theatres in Naples.

What then follows is a well written story about the cruelty of tragic loss on lives which have been irrevocably damaged by the horrors of war. The discovery of the bomb damaged theatre, and the efforts which ensue to restore it to some semblance of normality, add an unusual and rather poignant twist to this classic tale of wartime intrigue and tender romance.

The book is professionally finished to a high standard with fine attention to historical detail; time and place are captured perfectly. The writing throughout the novel is impeccable and expertly conveys, not just the impact of war, but also the emotional investment needed to overcome death and destruction on such a grand scale. It is clear that there has been much research undertaken into the background of wartime theatre and the author clearly has an interest and knowledge of opera and stage production.

Overall, this is a commendable historical novel, and I have no hesitation in recommending it.