This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
The sea of poppies surrounding the Tower of London last Autumn gave a poignant reminder as to how the nation’s wartime efforts still touch our hearts and images of those poppies are the starting point for this show. Sadly, few of those who lived through World War II as adults are still amongst us, but stories and music from that era form part of all of our lives and, here, we are invited to pack up our troubles in an old kit bag for a couple of hours of wallowing in nostalgia. The show raids the songbooks of the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields and more. Somewhat carelessly, Edith Piaf’s If You Love Me (written in 1954) is slipped in, but it is such a lovely song that we can let that pass. The focus is on an ENSA (Entertainment National Service Association) troupe, putting on shows to entertain service men and women, firstly at home and then in a combat zone in Italy. Jeffrey Raggett’s cheery, cheeky MC holds everything together; dressed in a loud checked suit, he is a comic in the Max Miller mould who fires wisecracks (refreshingly non-pc by modern standards) both on and off stage. Packing around 20 songs into two hours, the show has room only for snapshots of the lives of the performers. Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade gives a more detailed account of entertainers during the War, but this show is mainly about the songs. Sarah O’Connor’s book picks out two stories – a love triangle and a gay romance – and looks at them through specs tinted by 21st Century values. Single motherhood may not have been greeted by quite so much enthusiasm in the 1940s and gay men proclaiming the intention to “be themselves” whilst serving on the front line seems a little unlikely. Nonetheless, she leaves us wanting to know more about how these stories pan out, which cannot be a bad thing. The Landor is decked out in Union Jacks to look like any British Legion hall up and down the country – good venues for this show to move on to perhaps. Director Robert McWhir, choreographer Robbie O’Reilly and musical director Michael Webborn are expert at staging musicals in this small space and they give us a song and dance display that is well up to usual standards. Sometimes it benefits a production to look a bit rough around the edges, perhaps put together hastily and with limited resources. If that is sometimes the case here, the show reflects its subject matter well, but top-class singing and dancing from a 15-strong company and touching featured performances give it plenty of sparkle. It all adds up to a thoroughly entertaining evening.
Performance date: 17 July 2015