Fresh Glory Productions and The Lions Part at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
This intriguing documentary piece, skilfully devised from letters, diaries and reminiscences, is the story of the Land Girls, many of them still in their teens, who toiled in England's fields while the menfolk were fighting the Nazi foe.
The "hook" is the death of Churchill, years after the conflict ends; it becomes clear to us, as it did to the Lions Part when they asked for recollections, that those years in the country remain fresh in the memory, with their highs and their lows, told almost randomly, with natural hesitations and muddles. All punctuated by radio broadcasts to signpost the progress of the war. The genius of this show is to breathe life into the many anecdotes and accounts, often trivial or banal in themselves, and give them new significance and emotional power.
Jane Linz Roberts gives the four actors a pastoral, almost idyllic backdrop, as if seen through barn doors, with wooden side pieces and paraphernalia suggesting the busy farm.
The music – always a trigger for the memory – is certainly evocative, though the best known pieces stray dangerously close to cliché. It is beautifully sung, a cappella, by the four girls. Most effective, for me, were the satirical pastiches – If You Want To Go To Heaven, and Old Gang Labour – and the pin-drop moment where Silent Night drifted through the winter dark, with German and Italian mingling with English words.
Their characters are neatly defined. No surprise, perhaps, to find a salt-of-the-earth East Ender [Kali Peacock, superbly droll and very touching in her honesty] and a cut-glass lass from the upper crust [Sara Finch], who between them garner most of the laughs. A bank clerk, a Northern waif, beautifully drawn by Catriona Martin and Kate Copeland, complete the quartet. They all pitch in, playing everything from foreman to Italian POW, and collaborating to tell the stories of ploughing, calving, lambing, milking and harvesting. We see them eagerly unpack their uniforms – not as flattering as in the poster – flirt with the Yanks and act out their own version of Bandwagon's Chestnut Corner.
There are darker moments of exploitation and abuse, but many of these memories are fond, and very funny: the mouse down the cleavage, the field latrines.
"You had to be there to know," they said. But this moving tribute, now ending a two-year run, is an inspired way of remembering the Forgotten Army, and its vital role in our island story.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews