Thrilling Escapes from Stalag Luft III

“For you, the war is over!” 

Camp Commandant to Squadron Leader Ballard

Dominic Thorburn as Squadron Leader Ballard (Photo: Andrew Billington)

Theresa Heskins, Andrew Pollard and Michael Hugo have updated the information available on the escapes from Stalag Luft III after the National Archives released documents sealed until 1972.  The Hollywood movies like The Great Escape were based on the men who were in the camps. 

Wartime RAF officers had a duty to escape and cause as much disruption to the enemy as possible: some were better than others and escaped multiple times. The Germans constructed the camp in the woods at Zagan, Poland with machine gun towers, ground listening devices, huts raised off the ground and lots of barbed wire.   They put all the troublemakers and persistent escapees there to sit out the war but none of this deterred the inmates.

The play Tom, Dick and Harry  shows the spread of 22 nationalities who had joined the RAF and Allied Airmen with less emphasis on the American involvement as depicted by Hollywood.  A fascinating detail is the shows made by, and for, the all male prisoners to watch there and remind them of women and showgirls. 

The theatre at Alexandra Palace, once a recording studio for the BBC,  seats 900 and plays in the round.  This play is beautifully staged with the cast seamlessly pushing in and out essential furniture.  Tom, Dick and Harry were the code names given to each of three escape tunnels.  Projected onto the floor area is a map of the camp.   

Sam Craig as CJ and Nicholas Richardson as Landry (Photo: Andrew Billington)

One serial escapee, Squadron Leader Ballard, (Dominic Thorburn) arrives at the camp and is told by the Commandant Lederman (Andrew Pollard one of the writers), were he to escape again, it was most likely that the Gestapo would shoot him.  He becomes Head of the Escape Committee and organises a plan for 200 of the 600 plus prisoners to escape. 

To deal with the likelihood of the German search teams led by the obsessive German Giesler (David Fairs), Ballard directs that three tunnels should be built at the same time. Due to the sandy soil and listening devices it is decided that the tunnels shall be 30 foot deep and over a hundred meters long and ending in the midst of surrounding trees.  Another writer Michael Hugo, one of the writers, takes on the German Huber and Dutch escapee Bob, two very different roles.

There are sections looking at tunnelling, others at clothing, equipment and papers to be used by the escapees.  There is great credit due to the amazing ingenuity of the prisoners who can make something out of nothing, for example stamps carved out of the rubber heels of their shoes, Nazi hat brims from Gramophone records, Nazi uniforms out of blankets and a home made air pump for ventilation in the tunnel. Czech Janáček (Andrius Gaučas) is a skilled tailor and the cat walk scene is super.  A narrative voice over tells us who the men are, where they came from and about their occupation in civilian life.

Supplies were courtesy of the British Red Cross.  Getting rid of the tons of sand, being the wrong colour compared to the surface sand was just one of the many problems overcome. Two of the tunnels were found, Tom and Dick, so all efforts were put into Harry, hidden under a stove in a hut. There is so much more to tell of the true story of these men; the last survivor only died recently.

Andrius Gaučas as Janáček, Sam Craig as CJ and Nicholas Richardson as Landry (Photo: Andrew Billington)

This wonderful production comes from the New Vic Theatre in Stoke on Trent with two of the writers involved as actors and another, a woman, as director.  In the second act there is an amazing coup de théatre when we see the men escaping through the tunnels, lying flat on roped trolleys on a night with little moonlight, while avoiding the search light cycle from the towers.  76 men escaped that night.  This visual theatre will never be forgotten. 

The prisoners were encouraged to spend their energies in making theatre, on a stage rather than staging escapes.  We see a Jitterbug or is it a Lindy Hop dance in the first act and a gymnastic display, the noise often covering up tunnelling operations.  In the second act, a Monopoly Board conceals a map.  There are moments of humour in the camaraderie of the men and the Carmen Miranda show is a triumph with men in colourful frocks and fruity headdresses. 

It feels like an immersive show as we long for them to succeed on this thrilling ride.  We follow the Dutchman Bob (Michael Hugo) on his heart stopping journey across Europe to Spain which is neutral.

The theatremakers involved in Tom, Dick and Harry are as resourceful as the heroes they inhabit. 

Andrew Pollard as Wings and David Fairs as Giesler (Photo: Andrew Billington)

Production Notes

Tom, Dick and Harry

Written by Theresa Heskins, Andrew Pollard and Michael Hugo

Directed by Theresa Heskins



Andrew Pollard
David Fairs
Dominic Thorburn
Michael Hugo
Perry Moore
Eddy Westbury
Nicholas Richardson
Sam Craig
Andrius Gaučas


Director: Theresa Heskins

Set Designer: Laura Willstead

Movement: Beverley Norris-Edmunds

Composer and Musical Director: James Atherton

Costume Designer: Lis Evans

Lighting Designer: Daniella Beattie

Sound Designer: Alex Day

Video Designer:  Illuminos


Running Time:Two hours 30 minutes without an interval

Booking to 28th August 2022


Alexandra Palace Theatre
Alexandra Palace Way

London N22 7AY


Tube/Rail : Wood Green is the

nearest underground station on

the Piccadilly Line. Exit Wood

Green Station and go to

bus stop A to pick up the W3

bus up the hill to Alexandra


Telephone: 020 8365 4343


Co-produced by Kenny Wax and  the New Vic Theatre 

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at Alexandra Palace 

on 28th July  2022