The world premiere of Howard Brenton’s The Shadow Factory opened in Southampton’s new theatre, NST City, with a star-studded cast to a packed audience.

The Play tells the story of Southampton’s courage in 1940 during World War II, when despite more than 2,000 bombs being dropped and the Woolston Supermarine Spitfire factory being destroyed, community spirit reigned on.

From the moment the lights dim, the audience is transported back in time to The Battle of Britain, and the cast and special effects ensure that is where they remain.

The show is atmospheric, and deeply poignant of a time when sacrifice was at the heart of every home and yet it is still dusted with humour which, using connotations of another war which still rages today as obvious as it did back in the 1940s – that of Southampton Vs Portsmouth.

Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitken) is played by Hilton McRae – known for starring in Macbeth, Return of the Jedi and Far From the Madding Crowd – in an effective and intense performance that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Anita Dobson, famous for playing Angie Watts in Eastenders, switches from her roles as both Lady Cooper and Ma Dimmock with an ease that whispers professionalism, along with Catherine Cusack who plays both Lil and Sylvia.

David Birrell plays family-man Fred Dimmock, who is determined to fight the requisition order that he receives to turn his laundry into a factory making parts for the Spitfires. Birrell is both precise and direct in his performance and really captures the struggles with his character’s beliefs that Britain may well lose the war.

Len Gooch is played by Daniel York, who starred in Midsummer Murders, and again he manages to put in a strong and convincing performance that allures to the sacrifices people made, whereby friendships were broken over tough decisions they were forced to make to ensure victory.

Shala Nyx is evocative, feisty and completely believable as Polly Stride, the only female designer in the Spitfire factory, but the outstanding performance of the night has to go Lorna Fitzgerald – who took on her stage debut, and first role since the death of her Eastenders’ character Abi Branning, with a resounding accomplishment. She played Jackie Dimmock with a moving and determined talent that seemed effortless and she takes the audience through a range of emotions as Jackie tries to forge her own path in an ever-changing world filled with heartbreak and endurance.

The Shadow Factory will hold a special place in the heart of anyone who goes to see it, and especially resonate with any locals – as there are plenty of mentions of the region, from Hedge End Post Office to Hazel Road in Woolston.

It really is a must see!

The show runs until March 3 and tickets are available from