Published in the Guardian
"How do they expect me to fight two wars at once?" asks Lily Litvak early in Peter Arnott's play. Not only is she the star pilot in a Red Army squadron of "lady bombers" facing the Nazis, but she is at the vanguard of a battle of the sexes. For as long as the men keep Comrade Captain Litvak from flying with them, the Communist philosophy of equal rights for women is being put to the test. In the week when the Observer reported that women are being squeezed out of power at an accelerating rate, it's a question that has lost none of its topicality.
This, though, is the second world war and White Rose focuses on the fascinating historical moment when women could feel they were fighting as equals against the Fascist foe and in favour of a bright soviet future. The real-life Litvak was said to have flown with the white rose of Stalingrad on the side of her plane (actually a white lily) and before her death in combat, she shot down 11 enemy planes.
Arnott's play asks at what price. First seen in 1985 in a landmark season at Edinburgh's Traverse, White Rose is a Brecht-influenced study of the contradictions between elite achievement and the common good. The higher Litvak flies, whether driven by ideology or ego, the less human she seems.
Given an overdue revival by director Richard Baron for the Borders-based Firebrand, the play comes across like an unusually urgent theatre-in-education piece, packed with facts and passion. There can be something a little too 21st century about Lesley Harcourt's Lily and Alison O'Donnell's engineer Ina (stroppy when they should be Bolshie) but, together with an assured Robert Jack, they give a committed portrayal of pioneering women caught in history and too easily forgotten by it.
At Tron, Glasgow, until 2 March (0141 552 4267) then touring until 16 March. Details: www.firebrandtheatre.co.uk