Laura Thomas gave 'The Valentine Letters' at the Maltings Arts Theatre four stars.

The Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans has steadily assumed a position as one of the most progressive theatres in the southeast over the last decade, with networks extending into London, the midlands and beyond.

Innovative and exciting dramas have often been produced at the theatre by the OVO theatre company and many other local production companies.

It has also always been a home for new writing and now Jo Emery Productions presents ‘The Valentine Letters’ by Steve Darlow, based on the book by Frances Zagni - which is based in turn on letters between her mother Ursula and father, John, while a prisoner of war.

Jo Emery directs and produces the show. The trauma of this most reticent of generations, their courage and pragmatism whilst chaos raged, was celebrated by their own words, an effective use of verbatim material deftly assembled into dialogue by subtle editing.

Charlotte Drummond-Dunn as Frances Zagni herself, narrates the entire story with calm and assured presence.

The role of John Valentine was taken by Tom Hilton, stoic yet vulnerable. A strong and sure footed performance, boyish yet not gauche, sentimental but not mawkish.

Ursula Valentine was played by Katie Hamilton with superb style and grace, an everywoman, a rock. A first class performance.

But much more than linked narratives, the company moved together with balletic grace, reacted as one reaching for meaning in the subtext as John’s resolve and health were tested to breaking point.

Creative and enhancing technical lighting from Dorian Brooks, and set, props and costume by Jo Emery.

Although set now at the outer limit of living memories, the story is as relevant now, some would say more relevant, as the echoes of those 20th century conflagrations thunder in our ears, and lovers everywhere cling to the comfort of the mundane.

Thus, the last words must fall to Ursula. "I am filled with dread and anxiety as the battle front gets nearer to you. It’s getting quite unbearable.

"God keep you safe, my dearest. I have been occupying my leisure the evenings we play bridge or Mah-jong! What a lazy life!"

The play is based upon the book “Geprüft—The Remarkable Second World War Letters of Prisoner of War John Valentine and his wife Ursula”, written by Frances Zagni and published by Fighting High